"The Courier of Monday last, in pursuance of its endeavours to keep the scent of a plot from cooling, has these remarks: 'Whether the plan of the rioters was to commence in the morning or at night, is not ascertained; but from the declaration of Preston, who charges young Watson with precipitancy, it appears that the operations were not to commence till dark. Preston still maintains a high and indignant tone; he talks more enthusiastically than before of the extent of the plot, and adds, that not less than three hundred thousand persons were enrolled in the cause. Hooper, who states Preston to be the instigator and great mechanist of the conspiracy, has declared that the two Watsons, himself, and Preston, were in concert together in Spa-fields on the morning of Monday.'—Now, I dare say, that it will finally turn out, that Hooper has said no such thing as is here stated. But here again you see, that the words plot and conspiracy are used instead of the word plan, and this is manifestly for the base and diabolical purpose of causing the people to believe, that there has been a conspiracy against the government, and that all the Reformers are enrolled in this conspiracy! But be you well assured, that these eager efforts to excite alarm will fail of their purpose, and that the workers in them and their abettors will come out of the attempt covered with infamy, though nothing can produce in them any feeling of shame.
"In the meanwhile the Spenceonians are posting up, all about, the prospectus of this plan, and as if for the express purpose of preparing the way for their own everlasting disgrace, the owners of the Corrupt Press are publishing this very document, which I insert here as taken from the Courier of Monday.
"'The following hand-bill, it is stated, was circulated through the Metropolis yesterday, and excited much apprehension:—
'SPENCE'S PLAN For Parochial Partnerships in the Land, Is the only effectual Remedy for the Distresses and Oppressions of the People. The Landholders are not Proprietors in Chief; they are but the Stewards of the Public; For the LAND is the PEOPLE'S FARM. The Expenses of the Government do not cause the Misery that surrounds us, but the enormous exactions of these 'Unjust Stewards.' Landed Monopoly is indeed equally contrary to the benign Spirit of Christianity, and destructive of The Independence and Morality of all Mankind. 'The Profit of the Earth is for all;' Yet how deplorably destitute are the great Mass of the People? Nor is it possible for their situations to be radically amended, but by the establishment of a system, Founded on the immutable basis of Nature and Justice. Experience demonstrates its necessity; and the rights of mankind require it for their preservation.
To obtain this important object, by extending the knowledge of the above system, the Society of Spencean Philanthropists has been instituted. Further information of its principles may be obtained by attending any of its Sectional Meetings, where subjects are discussed calculated to enlighten the human understanding, and where also the regulations of the Society may be procured, containing a complete developement of the Spencean system.—Every individual is admitted, free of expense, who will conduct himself with decorum.
The Meetings of this Society begin at a quarter past eight in the evening, as under:
First Section, every Wednesday, at the Cock, Grafton-street, Soho. Second ............ Thursday, Mulberry Tree, Mulberry-court, Wilson-street,Moorfields. Third ............. Monday, Nag's Head, Carnaby-market. Fourth ............ Tuesday, No. 8, Lumber-street, Mint, Borough.'
"This is the Plan! This is the plan, the plot, the conspiracy, and the insurrection scheme! And, what an impudent, what an incorrigible, what a hardened impostor, must this writer be, who can tell the public, that this hand-bill excited much apprehension! Apprehension, I believe, indeed, in him and his associates and encouragers; for it furnishes the clue to unravel all their falsehoods and to expose them to scorn and to detestation; but, it is calculated to excite 'apprehension' in nobody else. The public indignation is fast collecting and winding up to a high pitch; and it only waits the result of the present examinations to pour down upon the heads of these corrupt instigators to fury and bloodshed. A gang of spies and informers, in one of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, who, after long and wearisome contrivances to discover a plot and to get the reward, just at the moment when they are expecting to see their victim swing and to pocket the blood-money, are sent away abashed and confounded by the discovery that it was a Cod's Head and not that of the Sovereign, against which he had been plotting. Not less complete would be the confusion of these corrupt writers, if it were not that they are destitute of every feeling that can lead to shame or remorse.
"Monstrous, however, as are the baseness and malice and cruelty of these men, they are, I think, still exceeded by their folly. The main object of all their endeavours, is, very clearly, to render you odious and to put you down; and, if they had been created for the express purpose of exalting you, it would have been impossible for them to labour to that end with more zeal or more effect. Your manner of conducting the second meeting, the way in which you carried on your communications with the government, the punctuality and decorum of your proceedings, the language and matter of your Resolutions and Petition, and the effect of these, very justly entitled you to a large share of public applause; but, the blows which these ferocious writers have aimed at your life have excited an interest in your favour such as no human being could have thought possible, and in the tide of which are completely drowned all your momentary errors and indiscretions, which, besides, having arisen from an excess of zeal, were not calculated to be long held in remembrance. Some very good, but very weak and timid people talked of your violence, while they seemed to overlook the violent thing which you attacked; but in the minds of all good men there is an inherent abhorrence of baseness like that which has aimed its murderous sting against your life, and, in the present case, this abhorrence has overpowered all the alarms of the good and timid people in whose breasts what is called your violence had excited such alarms. "The vipers have the mortification to perceive this, and their rage is increased accordingly. They see your portrait, from three different hands, setting them at defiance in the print-shop windows. They hear your speech and resolutions cried through the streets, and sold out of shops in several separate editions. They hear the taverns and public-houses filled with talk about you. They have contrived by their endeavours to implicate you in a 'treasonable conspiracy,' to excite a strong feeling of some sort or other respecting you in every human breast. And this is their way of putting a man down! They have, even by the use of their own columns, made your name familiar to the very water's edge of these islands. They have made you the only one of your kind; there is now but one Mr. Hunt in the world. Your ambition must be a cormorant indeed, if this does not satisfy it. No longer ago than Monday, they very seriously announced, that 'Hunt was SEEN, in his Tandem, going towards his home on Thursday last!' They seem to think that the public is much more interested in your movements than in those of the Prince Regent or of the Queen. I should not wonder if they were to have a 'Court News Writer' to give an account of all the movements of your body; and, after what I have seen within these ten days, I do not despair of seeing them announce, that 'on Monday, Mr. Hunt took the diversion of shooting till three o'clock. On Tuesday, Mr. Hunt went to inspect his barns, and was graciously pleased to express his high approbation of the ingenious mode of laying the crab-stick on upon the sheaves of wheat. On Wednesday, Mr. Hunt gave audience to several tax-gatherers, to whose importunities he did not listen with an overstock of complacency.' And so on, day after day. Why should I despair of this, after what I have seen? Your Tandem is become far more renowned than the Bulletproof coach, and your horse Bob, is far more famous already than the charger of old Blucher.
"Oh! the fools! Could not the settled reputation of being the most consummate of knaves content them? Was it necessary, in order to satisfy their ambition, to stand unrivalled through the world for folly as well as for knavery?
"Gratified, however, as you must be by these demonstrations of the impotent malice of such men, I hope, and indeed, I am sure, that a more gratifying consideration with you will be, as it ought to be, that these vile men have added to your power of serving your country, and which you will now be the better able to serve, because, having given such ample proofs of earnestness and resolution, you may safely moderate your zeal without risking any imputation of a want of that super-excellent quality. That quality, in which so many men are deficient, you possess to a redundance. Guard against this excess in future: take in a little sail, and add a little to your ballast: exchange a little of the courage of the lion for a little of the wisdom of the serpent: give up a little, and only a very little, of the stubbornness of the oak, for a little, and only a very little, of the pliancy of the reed: do this, and trust to the folly and knavery of these stupid and malignant wretches to make you a great man.
"The situation of the country is becoming day after day more and more perilous, and there can be no relief without a radical cure. The Prince in his answer to the City of London (which I shall fully notice by and by) confesses, as he well may, the existence of national distress and difficulty. These are important words, and especially the last. This is a great change produced since the beginning of last session of Parliament, when the wondrous prosperity of the country was a prominent theme of the Speech, and when your Wiltshire County Member, Mr. Paul Methuen, congratulated the House, that this country bad become the pillar of legitimacy all over Europe! Alas! how soon things have changed! Misery is a greater teacher than Messrs. Lancaster and Bell both put together.
"The Spitalfields subscription swells at a great rate, and, as a means of immediate relief, I am glad it does, though I shall always contend, that whatever degree of good may thereby be done, is due to you more than to any other person, and more than to all other persons put together; for, it is impossible that the misery should not have existed before the first Meeting in Spa-fields; and why, then, was it not before relieved? Mr. Buxton must have long known the facts which he so eloquently and so affectingly described; and why did he not then describe them sooner? The miserable sailors have long been perishing about the streets with hunger and cold; and why, then, has no measure of relief for them been adopted until now? I do not pretend to say, nor do I believe, that the greater part of those who now so freely subscribe, did not before feel for the unhappy sufferers; but, this I am quite sure of, that it was your first meeting and your petition which roused their feelings into immediate action; I do not say, nor do I believe, that the greater part of the subscribers had no real charity in them; but I defy any one to say, that their charity, which before lay dormant, was not quickened by your exertions. One of your flags, or rather of the flags of the Meeting, which had on it 'FEED THE HUNGRY,' 'CLOTHE THE NAKED,' was called by the Courier 'a standard of rebellion;' but, it is a standard under which the subscribers have hastened to range themselves; for they are serving out soup and old clothes in all directions! But, this very Courier, after the first Meeting, expressly stated, that the people in and near London, were not in want. He said, that, though work had fallen off and wages had been lowered in the country, it was not so in London; and he called the poor starving multitudes mutinous, lazy, and rebellious. He charged them with designs to overset the Government, and plainly and distinctly asserted, that they stood in no need of relief! How quickly he changed his tone! And how clear is that change to be traced to you!
"But, in the general subscription for the poor creatures of Spital-fields, you see only a small part of the effects of your labours. There have been meetings in almost all the parishes of the metropolis for similar purposes. Large subscriptions are going on in every direction. Just as if the poverty and misery were not as great a month ago as they are now! Great indeed they are, and they are producing symptoms so horrible that one sickens but to think of them. Amongst others, take the facts described in a placard now sticking against the walls. 'PUBLIC NOTICE.—United Parishes of Saint Andrew, Holborn, above Bar, and St. George the Martyr, Queen's Square. At a meeting of the overseers held this day in consequence of MANY PERSONS DESERTING THEIR FAMILIES,—It was resolved, That, in future, all persons, who desert their families, whereby they become chargeable to these parishes, or when the reputed parents of an illegitimate child abscond, such persons shall be advertised in the public papers, or in posting bills, with a full description of their persons, residence, and calling, and other particulars, and a reward offered for their apprehension. And all inhabitants harbouring persons for the night, for the like purpose, will be prosecuted accordingly.'
"To what are we come at last! And this is the age of our glory, is it? This is the situation we are in, when immense sums are voted for the erection of monuments to commemorate the deeds of the last 25 years! This is the state which not to be proud of, Mr. Vansittart said was proof of baseness in an Englishman! It is in this situation of the country, that Pitt Clubs have the insolence to hold their triumphal carousals!—Shall we never see these men in sackcloth? These insolent men, while wallowing in wealth, do not reflect on the pangs which must wring the poor man's heart before he can so far subdue the feelings of the husband and the father as to make him "desert his family;" or, if they do reflect on them, they must be more cruel than the storms and the waves. The labouring men in England, generally speaking, are the kindest and most indulgent of husbands and of parents. It has often been observed by me, that they are generally so to a fault. If a boy or girl belonging to them behave ill towards their employers, their father and mother are very hard to be convinced of the fact.—I have often to remonstrate with them upon this subject, and to remind them of how much more indulgent they are to their children than I am to mine. 'Aye, Sir,' said a very good woman to me a little while ago, 'but your children have their belly full of victuals.' The answer was a silencer. And this is the true cause of their indulgence, and of their excessive affection too. They see their children in want; they grow up in continual suffering; they are incessantly objects of compassion over and above the love which nature has implanted in the parent's breast. Their obstinate perseverance in justifying the conduct of their children upon all occasions is a fault; but it arises from the most amiable of human weaknesses; and though it may, and often is, injurious in its effects, it is the least censurable of all the frailties of the heart.
"If I have here, as I am sure I have, given the true character of the English labourer, as a parent and a husband, what must that state of things be, which has rendered the desertion of family so frequent an offence as to call forth a hand-bill and placard such as that which I have quoted above? And, in a state of things like this, are men to be called promoters of sedition, because they endeavour to point out the real cause of this horrible evil, and also endeavour to point out the remedy? Aye, but in doing this we point at the same time, to the weight of taxes; and we cite Mr. Preston in support of our doctrine, who says, that every poor man, who earns eighteen pounds in a year, pays away ten pounds of it in taxes. Mr. Preston's words are these:—'Every family, even of the poorest labourer, consisting of five persons, may be considered as paying, in indirect taxes, at least ten pounds a-year, or more than half his wages at seven shillings a week?' And, in another place he says: 'It should always be remembered, that every eighteen pounds a-year paid to any placeman or pensioner, withdraws from the public the means of giving active employment to one individual at the head of a family; thus depriving five persons of the means of sustenance from the fruits of honest industry and active labour, and rendering them paupers!
"What! is this rebellious on the part of Mr. Preston? He is a lawyer of great eminence. A Member of Parliament. A man of great landed estate. Could he write and publish this from rebellious, from treasonable motives? What he says is certainly true; and is he not to say it, because the saying it may be disagreeable to those who live upon the taxes thus collected? Is it not clear, that, if the money, which the labourer and journeyman now pay in taxes, were to be suffered to remain in their pockets, they would not stand in need of parish or subscription relief? And, if this be not true, why does not some one of the numerous tax-eating tribe attempt to prove it to be false? Have not they their full share of the press at their command? Aye, and more than their share. The sons of corruption are spreading about answers to me at a penny each, and some of them are given away. There must be money, somewhere, found for this. The sums necessary to do it must be very large too. Are they not content with this superiority? I have no means of giving papers away. They say that my writing is trash; they call the Letter to the Luddites seditious trash; they say that I am an ignorant fellow, a shallow man, and so forth. Why, then, are they in a passion? Why not laugh at me and my trash? Why name me at all? Why break silence after so long a period? They are continually vowing that they will never notice my trash again; but their hatred, like the love of the swain, returns the next hour with more ardour than ever, and scatters their vows to the winds. The most furious amongst them is a Sinecure Placeman, who writes in the Times newspaper, and upon whom the droppings of my pen seem to have the same effect as the crumbling of blue-stone or lump-sugar on the proud flesh of a galled jade. He winces and dances, and kicks and flings about at a fine rate. Amidst his ravings he swears that he will cause me to be hanged; and if he should not succeed, he would, I am sure, if he had any decency, finish his career by tucking up himself, and that too in his ribbon of the order of St. Lewis.
"The truth is, that these men and their assistants and encouragers see their certain doom in the enlightening of the people. They see clearly enough, that conviction must follow facts and arguments like mine rendered familiar. They see that I am uniting the mind with the muscle of the country; and, above all things, they see, and they tremble at, my incessant, and I hope, successful efforts, to convince the labourers and the journeymen, that they are men who have rights, and that the way to obtain those rights is to pursue a peaceable and orderly conduct. They hate every one who dwells upon the miseries of the country; for, to them, it is confusion to acknowledge that misery exists. The Courier asserted, only the other day, that there was no suffering in or near London, and abused the people for complaining! Such men would kill you or me or any man who talks of the people's sufferings. They call the complaints of hunger sedition. These writers are like the wretch, who, unable to force his poor worn-out and starved horse to drag his load along any further, took out his knife and cut his throat. And, I have not the least doubt, those men would see one half of the people's throats cut in order to reduce the rest to silent submission. The following case, taken from their own accounts of Wednesday last, will serve as a specimen of what is going on in London. This is dying quietly, according to the recommendation of Mr. Jabet's Old Townsman, who gave such just offence to the people of Birmingham. 'Between twelve and one o'clock on yesterday morning, a poor fellow was found in a passage in High-street, Bloomsbury, by Sullivan and Hogan, the watchmen of that district; he had taken shelter for the night. They requested him to walk on to his lodgings; he did not answer, but walked towards Monmouth-street, and they walked the contrary road. Between two and three o'clock they again found him lying upon a step in the same street; they asked him if he had no lodgings he tried to answer, but could only move his lips, which gave no utterance. They raised him upon his feet to assist him to the watch-house; he walked a few yards, and from weakness fell upon his knees. They got him upon their shoulders to carry him to the watch-house, but before they arrived with him he appeared to be dead. The watchman took him to the workhouse, and called up the house surgeon, who examined the body, and said it was useless to bleed him, or use any method to restore him, as he was quite dead. The deceased is apparently about fifty years of age, the most complete picture of human misery, having no linen upon his back, and his bones almost through his skin. By his dress he appears to be a workman out of employ. He has not been OWNED.'—Look at this, ye vile miscreants, and then say, whether it was a crime to call a meeting of the distressed to petition for relief! Hundreds must perish in this way. Only five days ago I saw more than twenty sailors on Westminster Bridge, neither of whom had any linen on, and some neither shoes, stockings, nor hat. But, the numbers who have perished and who are perishing from the diseases occasioned by want are not to be counted. And yet, it was a crime in you, and the sanguinary sons of corruption called for your instant execution, because you obeyed the call of the distressed to hold a meeting of them in Spafields! Not to have obeyed that call would indeed have been a crime; but, it was a crime of which your nature was incapable.
"I now come to the City Petition and the answer of the Prince Regent. This is a very important matter, and, therefore, I shall insert the documents themselves previous to making any remarks on them.
"'ADDRESS AND PETITION.
"'May it please your Royal Highness,
"'We, his Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of the City of London, in Common Council assembled, humbly approach your Royal Highness, to represent our national sufferings and grievances, and respectfully to suggest the adoption of measures which we conceive to be indispensably necessary for the safety, the quiet and prosperity of the Realm.
"'We forbear to enter into details of the afflicting scenes of privations and sufferings that every where exist; the distress and misery which for so many years has been progressively accumulating, has at length become insupportable—it is no longer partially felt, nor limited to one portion of the empire—the commercial, the manufacturing, and the agricultural interests are equally sinking under its irresistible pressure; and it has become impossible to find employment for a large mass of the population, much less to bear up against our present enormous burdens.
"'We beg to impress upon your Royal Highness, that our present complicated evils have not arisen from a mere transition from war to peace, nor from any sudden or accidental causes—neither can they be removed by any partial or temporary expedients.
"'Our grievances are the natural effect of rash and ruinous wars, unjustly commenced and pertinaciously persisted in, when no rational object was to be obtained—of immense subsidies to foreign powers to defend their own territories, or to commit aggressions on those of their neighbours—of a delusive paper currency—of an unconstitutional and unprecedented military force in time of peace—of the unexampled and increasing magnitude of the Civil List—of the enormous sums paid for unmerited pensions and sinecures—and of a long course of the most lavish and improvident expenditure of the public money throughout every branch of the Government, all arising from the corrupt and inadequate state of the representation of the people in Parliament, whereby all constitutional controul over the servants of the Crown has been lost, and Parliaments have become subservient to the will of Ministers.
"'We cannot forbear expressing our grief and disappointment, that, notwithstanding your Royal Highness's gracious recommendation of economy at the opening of the last Session of Parliament, your Ministers should have been found opposing every proposition for lessening the national expenditure; and that they should have been able to obtain majorities to support and sanction their conduct, in defiance of your Royal Highness's recommendation and the declared sense of the nation—affording another melancholy proof of the corrupt state of the representation, in addition to those facts so often stated, and offered to be proved at the bar of the House of Commons, in a petition presented in 1793, by the Honourable Charles, now Lord Grey, whereby it appeared that the great body of the people were excluded from all share in the election of Members, and that the majority of the Honourable House were returned by the proprietors of rotten boroughs, the influence of the Treasury, and a few powerful families.
"'We can, Sir, no longer support out of our dilapidated resources, an overwhelming load of taxation; and we humbly submit to your Royal Highness, that nothing but a reformation of these abuses, and restoring to the people their just and constitutional right in the election of Members of Parliament, can afford a security against their recurrence—calm the apprehensions of the people—allay their irritated feelings, and prevent those misfortunes in which the nation must inevitably be involved, by an obstinate and infatuated adherence to the present system of corruption and extravagance.
"'We therefore humbly pray your Royal Highness to assemble Parliament as early as possible; and that you will be graciously pleased to recommend to their immediate consideration these important matters, and the adoption of measures for abolishing all useless places, pensions, and sinecures; for the reduction of our present enormous military establishment; for making every practicable reduction in the Public Expenditure, and restoring to the people their just share and weight in the Legislature.
"'Signed by order of the Court.
* * * * *
"'It is with strong feelings of surprise and regret, that I receive this Address and Petition of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of the City of London, in Common Council assembled.
"'Deeply as I deplore the prevailing distress and difficulties of the country, I derive consolation from the persuasion, that the great body of his Majesty's subjects, notwithstanding the various attempts which have been made to irritate and mislead them, are well convinced, that the severe trials which they sustain with such exemplary patience and fortitude, are chiefly to be attributed to unavoidable causes, and I contemplate with the most cordial satisfaction the efforts of that enlightened benevolence which is so usefully and laudably exerting itself throughout the kingdom.
"'I shall resort with the utmost confidence to the TRIED wisdom of Parliament, at the time, which upon the fullest consideration, I have thought most advisable, under the present circumstances of the country; and I entertain a perfect conviction, that a firm and temperate administration of the Government, assisted and supported by the good sense, public spirit, and loyalty of the nation, will effectually counteract those proceedings, which, from whatever motives they may originate, are calculated to render TEMPORARY difficulties the means of producing PERMANENT and irreparable calamity.'
"The surprise and regret, and the broad hints that came after, have nettled the citizens a little. Whether they will shew any bottom, remains to be seen; but, as to the distress and difficulties being TEMPORARY, and as to their having arisen from UNAVOIDABLE causes, I differ with his Royal Highness, or, rather with his Ministers who advised this answer. The distress has been visibly proceeding in a regular increase of severity for more than two years; it becomes every day greater and greater; it is deep rooted; it is destroying the means of resuscitation; it is ripping up the goose and taking out the golden eggs; in suspending the operations of labour, it is cutting off the possibility of a speedy return of employment. But, what say the Correspondents of the Board of Agriculture? Not one single man of them, except a parson or two, pretends that the distress is of a temporary nature; on the contrary, 205 of them, out of 322, attribute the ruin to the weight of taxes! And, therefore, to make the distress temporary, the weight of taxes must be temporary; and this is one of the main objects of the prayer of the Citizens of London.
"Oh, no! the distress and difficulties have not arisen from unavoidable causes; for the weight of taxes might have been avoided. However, let me ask the Ministers a few questions here. I will not ask them whether it was unavoidable for the Bank to stop payment in cash in 1797; whether it was unavoidable to renew the war in 1813; whether it was unavoidable to persevere in the war with America after the war in England ceased, and, at last, to make peace without attaining any object of war; whether it was unavoidable to renew the war in 1815 for the purpose of compelling the French people to give up Napoleon and submit to the Bourbons; whether it was unavoidable to keep up an army to maintain the Bourbons on the throne of France, at a time when thousands of the Protestants of the country were butchered or burnt by those who called themselves the loyal. I will not put any of these questions to the Ministers; but with the official accounts before me, I will ask them a few questions applicable to the present moment. I ask them, then,
Was it unavoidable to keep up an army at the expense, including the Ordnance, of 26,736,067 pounds?
Was it unavoidable that the expense of the Civil List should, in last year, amount to 1,928,000 pounds?
Was it unavoidable for as to pay in the same year, on account of the deficiencies of the Civil List 584,713 pounds?
Was it unavoidable that the other additional allowances to the Royal Family, in that year, should amount to 366,660 pounds?
Was it unavoidable that the Civil List for Scotland should amount to 126,613 pounds?
Was it unavoidable to give for the relief of suffering French and Dutch Emigrants, in that year, after, the Bourbons and the 'Orange Boven' had been restored, the sum of 79,591 pounds?
Was it unavoidable to expend in that year (including) an arrear of the former year, in SECRET SERVICE Money, the sum of 153,446 pounds?
Was it unavoidable to pay last year, out of the taxes for the relief of the Poor Clergy of the Church of England, the sum of 100,000 pounds?
"I could ask them a great many more questions of a similar nature and tendency; but here are enough for the present; and, if the Citizens of London should happen to be satisfied, that all these expenses were unavoidable, all the taxes, of course, are unavoidable, and then it is clear, that the present distress and difficulty of the country are to be attributed to unavoidable causes. But, if the citizens should think, that a very large part, nine-tenths, for instance, of these expenses might have been avoided, then they will come to the opposite conclusion, and, if they be not beaten at a single blow, they will not fail to communicate that conclusion to his Royal Highness.
"As to the hint about irritating and misleading the people, the charge can apply only to the enemies of Parliamentary Reform; for we deal in soothing language, in the inspiring of hope, and in the promulgation of useful political truth, and, therefore, the charge cannot apply to us. But, when the Prince is advised to talk of the TRIED wisdom of the Parliament, he compels us to fix our eyes on those 'distresses and difficulties,' of which he is graciously pleased to speak at the same time, and which, at any rate, have grown into being under the existence of that 'TRIED wisdom.'
"I have just received from America the most authentic accounts of the happy state of the people there. English goods were selling at auction for a fourth of their prime cost; and the Americans say, that they are, in this way, getting back what they lost by our Orders in Council, under which their ships were seized and condemned. The ruin, in America, is wholly confined to the agents and merchants connected with England. The country at large is in the most flourishing state; no beggars, no paupers, no distress, and their newspapers are filled with true accounts of our distresses. Still, let us cling to the Old Ship, and let us try, in spite of all opposition, to make our own country as happy as America. But, here is another mark of our distresses not being of a temporary nature. The market of America is gone for ever as to most articles of manufacture. I shall, however, treat more fully of this another time.
"I am, with the greatest respect,
"Sir, "Your most obedient and most humble Servant,
When the reader has perused this letter, he will be able to form a pretty correct opinion of the state of the public mind in the metropolis upon this occasion; and, as it was written at the time when Mr. Cobbett was divested, of prejudice, it will be read with considerable interest at this period.
The plot that had been laid for the purpose Of SPILLING MY BLOOD, had been completely frustrated. I returned to the country, where I received invitations to attend public meetings for Reform, which the inhabitants of Bath and Bristol wished to hold. I went to spend a fortnight with a friend at Newton, near Bath, and, as I was a freeholder of both those cities, I drew up requisitions and signed them first, to be presented to the Mayors, requesting them to call meetings, to petition for Reform. They both refused to comply with the request of their fellow-citizens, and we, the requisitionists, therefore advertised and called them ourselves.
The Bristol meeting was advertised to be held upon Brandon-hill, on the 26th of December, the Mayor having refused us the use of the Guildhall. I started from Newton about 11 o'clock, on one of the wetest days that I ever remember. On the road I passed several troops of the Lancers, who had been ordered up from Weymouth, to watch this meeting. When I reached Bristol I met, at Temple-gate, my worthy friend Mr. John Cossens, with Mr. Pimm and a few others. They informed me, that they had been deterred by the corporation from erecting any hustings upon Brandon-hill, and that the City was invested by a regiment of North Somersetsbire Yeomanry Cavalry, which had been arriving from all parts for several hours. Some of my friends strongly urged the propriety of my returning to Bath, and postponing the meeting to some future time, in consequence of the extreme wetness of the day. I had never promised to attend any public meeting of the people and then disappointed them, and I felt extreme reluctance at the base thought of doing so upon this occasion; particularly as such a body of the military were assembled from all quarters, since, to decline holding the meeting under such circumstances, would carry the idea that, because the corrupt knaves of Bristol had called out the military, we were fearful of performing, and that, too, in a perfectly legal and constitutional manner, an imperative public duty. That, however, in order to deter us, some persons, who were not gifted with strong nerves, should hesitate, is not to be wondered at, when we look at the following statement, which was published in the London Courier, of the 25th of December, the day previous to the meeting being held: "that the regular soldiers are assembling; that the North Somerset regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry are ready to march to the aid of the Mayor; that a vestry in one parish has been held to collect persons to march to the Mayor's to be sworn in as special constables; that the parties signed a resolution at the said vestry, that they will not distribute any Christmas gifts on Thursday, in order to keep the watchmen to their duty on that day; and that they will dismiss from their employ all persons who do not work on the day of the meeting."
This was all true; the streets were lined with troops, drenched in rain: I never saw such drowned rats in my life! they looked wretched indeed! nevertheless, on I drove, through the City up to Brandon-hill. When I got there not ten persons were present, but as the rain held up, and the day became fine, in less than ten minutes there were as many thousands assembled. I sent my servant with the leader of my tandem to the inn, and I made my gig the hustings. A chairman was appointed, and the resolutions and a petition to Parliament were proposed by me, and seconded by Mr. Cossens, and were unanimously adopted by the meeting. The petition, which was for Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot, was left for signatures in the City, and in a very short time it received TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND names. These resolutions and this petition were carried by a meeting of unarmed citizens, assembled upon Brandon-hill, which was surrounded by armed troops, drawn up within sight, and some of them within hearing, of what was said and done by myself and others who took part in the said meeting. The Bath troops were commanded on that day by a person of the name of King, a marble mason of that city. The men were mounted before day-light, when the rain commenced; and this very gallant officer and profound soldier objected to the men wearing their cloaks. As they were going upon such a magnanimous errand, such an heroic exploit, he said "he hoped they would not disgrace themselves by wearing their cloaks." The consequence was, that these feather-bed soldiers suffered most wretchedly, as they were soaked to the skin before they had got two miles on the road to Bristol. Their being kept in this woeful plight all day caused the death of two or three of them; Robert Ansty, a butcher, and Wilton, who kept the Bear inn at Holloway, never recovered from the effects of their trip to Bristol. There was, in truth, no more call for soldiers at Bristol on that day than there was for them in the Guildhall at Bath, where there was no meeting to be held. The Mayor of Bristol and other Magistrates had sworn in 800 special constables upon the occasion; in fact, the appearance of the City was more like a besieged fortress than any thing else. But all this parade was intended only for the purpose of intimidating the minds of the weak and silly portion of the people and creating a panic throughout the country. I will venture to say, that the business of the meeting would have been carried on as quietly, and as much without any breach of the peace, and without one window having been broken, had there not been one soldier, or one constable or peace officer present at the time.
Mr. Thomas Cossens, of Castle-street, manfully stood forward to support me, and courageously braved the anger of the corrupt knaves of Bristol. He rode through the city with me to the extremity of it, cheered all the way by the people, unless it was in passing the new reading room, in Clare-street, where a few of those who had been sworn in as special constables were assembled; a little contemptible group of the abject, dependant tools of the corporation, who, as I suppose, from the appearance of their lips, attempted to raise a hiss, but their voices were instantly drowned by the cheers of the multitude; and thus the meeting passed off as peaceably as if there had not been any bustle made by the corporation and police of the city, in order to create a riot.
A few days after this, I got a requisition signed by thirty respectable inhabitants of the City of Bath, the exact number of the corporation who return the members. Having placed my name at the head of them, I waited upon the Mayor, a Mr. Anderton, an apothecary, I believe; he was better known amongst the citizens by the name of Pump-handle. When I laid the requisition before him, he was presiding at the justice-room at the Guildhall. He read it over, while I kept my eyes fixed upon him, and when he had finished the perusal of it, he hemmed and hawed, and began to make all sorts of excuses, saying that the City of Bath had never been troubled with a public meeting, and he could not see why there should be any meeting there now. I told him that there would certainly be a meeting, whether he called it or not; that we the requisitionists merely wished to pay him the compliment of giving him, as the chief magistrate of the city, an opportunity of convening it; but that, if he felt the least difficulty upon the subject, we would quite as soon call it ourselves. He replied by some foolish observation, which I now forget, but the purport of which was, to leave it doubtful whether he would or would not comply with our wishes. This, however, did not suit me, and I pressed him for a definite answer. At length be gave such a one as, before I waited on him, I was thoroughly convinced that he would give, namely, that he could not think of complying with the request of his fellow-citizens. So thoroughly convinced indeed had I been that he would not call the meeting, that, previous to my waiting on him, I had sent the copy of the placard, calling the meeting ourselves, to the printer's to be set up, only leaving room for the answer of the Mayor; so that, within one hour after he had refused, large broadsides were placarded all over the city, calling the meeting on the following Monday, in the name of myself and the other persons who signed the requisition. The meeting was appointed to be held at 12 o'clock, on my premises, a large yard in Walcot-street, formerly belonging to a brewer, so that we were totally free from any interruption that might have been intended to have been given us.
The circumstances attending the calling of this meeting were rather curious, and deserve notice, to shew how necessary it is upon these occasions to act with promptness and decision. The calling of this meeting had been in contemplation for some time. I had drawn up a requisition, signed it with my own name, and sent it to Mr. John Allen, who, together with Dr. Oliver and Mr. Binns, had undertaken to get it signed. Some names, I knew, had been procured, but the business had been driven off from time to time, and a number of difficulties had been started; but now that I was come into the neighbourhood of Bath the thing was to have been done out of hand. I had, meanwhile, procured and held the meeting at Bristol, and now that it was over I was determined to see after that of Bath, without further delay. I therefore drove over, and found matters quite at a stand, and all sorts of difficulties and impediments appeared to have quite overcome Messrs. Allen, Oliver, and Co. I saw that it was their determination not to call the meeting; as they said it was impossible to carry resolutions and a petition for Reform in a city which was under such a corrupt influence. I requested to have the requisition handed over to me, and I would get it signed myself; but, after a great deal of searching the shop of Mr. Binns, and hunting a long time for the said requisition, IT WAS LOST. To be humbugged in this sort of way did not suit me; I called for pen, ink and paper, instantly drew up another requisition, signed it myself, and sent little Young, my tenant in Walcot-street, and little Hickman, the assistant at Binns' shop, round with the requisition, to get it signed by thirty tradesmen who were housekeepers, which I predicted they would accomplish in half an hour. In the meantime I drew up the copy of a placard, to be posted on the walls, calling the meeting on the following Monday, in the name of the requisitionists; I being, as I have already stated, perfectly convinced that the Mayor would not call the meeting. As I had anticipated, Hickman and Young returned, in less than an hour, with the requisition signed by thirty very respectable tradesmen, and Young and myself carried it instantly and presented it to the Mayor, so that in less than three hours after I put my shoulder to the wheel, the requisition was drawn up, signed, presented to the Mayor, and his answer was printed on large placards, which placards were posted all over the city, appointing the meeting to be held on the following Monday. All this was accomplished in less than three hours, though the little clan of pretended Reformers, Messrs. Allen and Co. had been humdrumming about it for three weeks, without even getting the requisition signed. I wish I had a list of the brave men's names who so promptly signed this requisition; I would certainly record them. I remember that Mr. Crisp, the hatter, and Mr. Rolf, the shoemaker, and my tenant, Mr. Young, the builder, in Walcot-street, were three of them; Mr. Hickman, not being a householder, did not sign it. The day came, and a hustings was erected in my yard, and when I arrived, not only was the place full from top to bottom, but all the roofs of the buildings were covered with people. This also I had anticipated, and provided for. I had got two carpenters' benches already loaded in a cart, which, upon a signal being given, were to be taken to the Abbey Grove, to which spot it was my intention to move that the meeting should adjourn. Accordingly as soon as I got upon the hustings, I moved that the meeting should forthwith adjourn to the Abbey-Grove. This was seconded, and, although it came very unexpectedly, yet it was carried by acclamation. The cart with the carpenters' benches reached the Abbey-Grove before we did, and they were placed under the wall of the Abbey-Church. Thither I and my friends walked, the immense multitude, of from twelve to fifteen thousand persons, following us through the Marketplace, where many of the military were drawn up; for, in spite of the example of peaceableness which, in the week before, the people of Bristol had exhibited, the worthy Mayor of Bath had ordered out all the troops, Lancers and Somersetshire Yeomanry; and he had likewise been occupied the whole of the previous days in swearing in a large body of the gentlemen and tradesmen of the city, to act as special constables. These, of course, being present at the meeting, swelled our numbers very considerably. When we mounted the hustings, the Abbey-Grove was at least one-third of it crammed full, so that, on a moderate calculation, there were from twelve to fifteen thousand persons present. A public meeting of the people for any political purpose had never before been held in Bath, and therefore it attracted greater attention than is usual in other cities.
Resolutions were now proposed and passed, which exposed the glaring injustice of paying away enormous sums of the public money to sinecure placemen and unworthy pensioners, &c. The Marquis of CAMDEN, who held the office of one of the Tellers of the Exchequer, a sinecure of thirty-five thousand a year, being the Recorder of the city of Bath, gave us a fine opportunity of expatiating on the profligate waste of the public money upon that corrupt and knavish corporation. Our resolutions were extremely strong and pointed upon this subject of our Recorder's enormous sinecure; and these resolutions were embodied in our petition, which was passed almost unanimously, amidst the cheers of the citizens of Bath. In this petition we forcibly remonstrated against such a wanton and unfeeling waste of the public money, and urged the necessity of the immediate abolition of the Marquis of Camden's sinecure. I wish I had a copy of the resolutions and petition by me, that I might insert them here, as I conceive this to have been the most momentous petition that was ever presented to the House of Commons; and the effect which it produced was more important than that of any other petition that was ever passed at any public meeting, not excepting that which was passed at Spafields. At this, as well as at all the public meetings that I attended, the petition prayed for Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot; but, as it was the first and only petition that ever came from a public meeting of the citizens of Bath, we laid very great stress upon the Marquis of Camden's sinecure, he being the Recorder of the City.
After this petition had been passed unanimously, it was left for signatures in several places in the city, but the rendezvous was at Mr. Young's, who occupied my house and premises in Walcot-street, so that he was totally independent of the corporation. The meeting was held and conducted in the most peaceable and orderly manner, and as soon as it was concluded the people retired to their homes in the same regular and satisfactory way, each individual being conscious of having done his duty to himself, his family, and his country. It is necessary to observe, that Mr. John Allen, a builder, of Bath, who had offered himself as the popular representative for that city in 1812, altogether abstained from taking any part in any of the proceedings of this meeting. He being a mushroom reformer, raised his head for a short season, and was cut off and disappeared from the political world almost as quick as a mushroom disappears after a nipping frost. The effect produced by this meeting did indeed rouse him again for a moment; but it was only that he might fall still lower, and be totally buried in the lap of corruption, mingling with its basest tools and dependants. The petition was signed by upwards of twenty thousand persons, in a few days.
There had, in the meanwhile been meetings held, for the purpose of petitioning for Reform, all over the kingdom, particularly in the North of England and Scotland; which meetings emanated from the first Spafields meeting; and at almost all of these Meetings resolutions and petitions of a similar tendency were passed; Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot, being very generally prayed for. Hampden Clubs had been formed all over the North of England, by Major Cartwright, who had sent an agent round the country for that purpose. The Major had also supplied a copy of a petition for Reform, to be transmitted to the members of these bodies, which prayed for the suffrage, or right of voting, to be extended only to all payers of direct taxes. These petitions being printed upon large paper, were very generally adopted, as this saved the trouble of drawing up others. A circular letter had also been sent round the country, signed by Sir F. Burdett, or rather with the Baronet's fac-simile, which he had authorised the Major to use, for the purpose of inviting the Hampden Clubs, and all other petitioning bodies, to send up delegates or deputies to London, to meet a deputation of the Hampden Club, to decide upon what sort of Reform the reformers would unanimously agree to petition for. Great numbers had followed the example set them at Spafields, Bristol, and Bath; others, who had signed the Major's printed petitions, only prayed for all payers of direct taxation to be admitted to the right of voting.
On the 20th of January, 1817, five persons were tried at the Old Bailey, for rioting in the City of London, on the day of the second Spafields meeting. Cashman, the sailor, was found guilty, and sentenced to be executed in the front of Mr. Beckwith's, the gun-smith's shop, in Skinner-street.
The Parliament was to meet on the 28th of January. About the 24th of that month, the delegates, or deputies, from the Hampden Clubs, and other petitioning bodies, from various parts of the kingdom, arrived in London; and a day was appointed for them to meet at the Crown and Anchor. I was delegated from Bristol, to accompany Mr. Cossens, who brought the petition from that city, signed by twenty-four thousand persons. I was also delegated from Bath, together with Mr. John Allen, who, seeing the spirit displayed by his townsmen, volunteered once more to act the part of a Reformer, and he brought up the Bath petition, containing upwards of 20,000 signatures. The Reformers of Bath and Bristol gave positive instructions to their delegates that they should support Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot. Mr. Allen brought up the written instructions from Bath which he delivered to me, and he accepted the delegation upon the express condition that he would support and vote for Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot. I met Mr. Hulme from Bolton, Mr. E. Taylor from Norwich, Mr. Warburton from Leicester, and several other delegates from England and Scotland, at Mr. Cobbett's house in Catherine street, in the Strand, which was the general rendezvous; and there I first saw Mr. Fitton and Mr. Kaye of Royton, Mr. Bamford from Middleton, Mr. Benbow and Mr. Mitchell from Manchester, and many others. Major Cartwright had, in the meantime, been down to Brighton, personally to ascertain Sir Francis Burdett's opinion upon the subject; and from him the Major learned that he would not support any petitions that prayed for Universal Suffrage; that he would support Householder Suffrage and the payers of direct taxes, but nothing farther. When the Major returned he communicated this to Mr. Cobbett, who was requested to use all his influence to prevail upon me to give up Universal Suffrage, and to adopt the plan of Sir Francis Burdett. I had consulted with Mr. Hulme, whom I found an honest and staunch friend of Liberty, and he had agreed to support me in the motion which I had resolved to make at the delegate meeting, for Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot. The Major, as well as Mr. Cobbett, had already done every thing to prevail upon us to give it up for the householder plan, but we were inflexible. This being the situation of affairs, on the day before the meeting was to take place, the Major was very anxious for Mr. Cobbett to attend as a delegate; but to accomplish this was not quite an easy matter, as Mr. Cobbett had not been elected a delegate by either of the petitioning bodies. The Major, however, was never at a loss for a scheme, and his agent or writer, whom he employed at the time, an Irishman, of the name of Cleary, was set to work privately to assemble some members of the Union, which had been formed in London by the Major, previous to the formation of the Hampden Club; in fact, the latter sprung out of the former, which was too democratical for the aristocracy, and they consequently set on foot a select club amongst themselves, called the Hampden Club; although I believe, with the exception of the Major and Mr. Northmore, there was not a member amongst them who was at all disposed to follow the example of John Hampden. But, be this as it may, Cleary was ordered to get together, at the Crown and Anchor, the night before the intended delegate meeting, a chosen number of the members of the Union, expressly for the purpose of appointing two delegates for the metropolis. Although we were both members of the Union, Cleary was strictly enjoined not to communicate either to me or to Mr. Hulme any intention of holding this conclave, which was to have been a snug junto of Westminster men, nothing more nor less than the Rump Committee, who were to assemble at the request of the Major, to appoint Mr. Cobbett a delegate, that he might attend the meeting the next day, purposely to oppose my motion for Universal Suffrage, and to move in its stead, that we, the delegates, should adopt the recommendation of the Hampden Club, and support the householder suffrage only.
This good piece of generalship could not, however, be carried completely into effect, as one of the invited party communicated it in confidence to Mr. Hulme and myself. We laughed heartily at the intrigue of the old Major and Mr. Cobbett, and agreed that, being members of the Union, we would unexpectedly attend the meeting at seven o'clock, without saying a word to any one. We both dined with Mr. Cobbett, and a little before seven we made an excuse for leaving his table, saying, that we had a particular engagement for an hour or two, after which we would return again. Mr. Cobbett strongly opposed our leaving him; but whether he had any suspicion that we were up to the tricks of the Major and himself, I never ascertained. However, off Mr. Hulme and I started together, and we soon arrived at the Crown and Anchor, and desired to be shown into the room where the members of the Union were assembled. At first the waiters did not appear to understand us; at length they asked me if we meant Mr. Brooks and Mr. Cleary's room. We replied, "exactly so," and in we marched, to the great consternation of Mr. Brooks, who sat at the head of the table, with Cleary at his right, and surrounded by some half score of as pretty a picked junto for dishing up a little under-plot of the sort, as could have been selected for the purpose in the whole kingdom.
Our unexpected visit, without any invitation, appeared to create very considerable uneasiness, and even dismay. I informed them that, as we were both old members of the Union, and had accidentally heard that there was to be a meeting, we did ourselves the pleasure of attending it, although (no doubt from mistake) we were not summoned. This did not at all relieve them from the dilemma in which they were placed. After looking at each other for some time, they cautiously developed the object of the meeting, and with great timidity and doubt Mr. Brooks proposed Mr. Cobbett as "a proper man to be a delegate to represent the Union, at the delegate meeting to be holden the next day." Instead of throwing any obstacle in the way, which they had expected would be the case, I instantly arose and seconded the motion; adding, that I believed Mr. Cobbett to be one of the most proper men in the kingdom to attend such a meeting, and that I proposed Mr. Brooks as a proper colleague for him; and I moved that those two gentlemen should be appointed as the delegates of the Union Society, to maintain their rights at the approaching meeting. Mr. Hulme seconded the motion, and it was carried unanimously; upon which we returned to Mr. Cobbett's, and were the first to communicate the result of that select assembly which was got up privately, and from which it was intended that we should have been totally excluded. He appeared astonished, but carried it off with a laugh.
After this, many, many hours were employed by Mr. Cobbett, in endeavouring to prevail upon us to give up the plan of supporting Universal Suffrage. He should, he said, propose to the delegates to agree to the householder plan; especially as Sir F. Burdett had declared that he would not support the former. I lamented differing from him, but I declared that I would support Universal Suffrage from principle, in spite of all the policy in the world, and in spite of the opinion or whim of all the baronets in the world.
With this determination we left him, and met at the appointed hour, at the Crown and Anchor, on the next day. Major Cartwright and Mr. Jones Burdett were the deputation from the Hampden Club; and there were, in the whole, about sixty delegates from different parts of the kingdom of England and Scotland; but, with the exception of those from Bath, Bristol, and London, they all came from the North.
Major Cartwright was unanimously called to the chair, and he opened the proceedings by informing us, that the Hampden Club had come to the determination of supporting the Householder Suffrage; which plan he strongly recommended to the delegates to adopt, particularly as Sir Francis Burdett had declared that he would not support any petition that prayed for a more extended right of voting. In truth, the Major, instead of performing the part of chairman, actually became the strenuous and eloquent advocate of the Hampden Club, and their notable scheme of restricting the right of voting to householders and payers of direct taxes to Church and King; and I must in justice say, that I never saw an advocate labour harder than the Major did to carry this point, which I believe he confidently relied upon accomplishlng, as he knew that he would have the support of Mr. Cobbett's great talent and weight of influence amongst the assembled delegates.
Mr. Cobbett then rose, and, in a luminous and artful speech, endeavoured to convince the delegates, or rather to bring them over to the same way of thinking. He, as well as the Major, were heard with great attention, but it was with such silent attention as rendered it very evident to me that their doctrine of exclusion was listened to by the delegates without any conviction of its truth. It may easily be supposed that I took good care narrowly to watch the contrivances of those who, by their votes, were to decide the great question; many of whom Mr. Cobbett had previously had an opportunity of communicating with, and using his influence upon, in private. After a most ingenious speech, he concluded by moving, that the present meeting was of opinion, that the right of voting for Members of Parliament could be safely and practicably extended only to householders paying direct taxes to Church and State, and that it should be recommended to the Reformers throughout the country to petition for a Reform of the Commons' House of Parliament, upon the plan of householder suffrage. If not the words, this was the substance and meaning of the motion.
The moment that Mr. Cobbett sat down, (sat down with perfect silence round him), to my great astonishment up started John Allen, my brother-delegate from Bath, and seconded the motion for the EXCLUSION from the right of voting of all persons except householders and payers of direct taxes; that is, except they were payers of church and poor rates, and King's taxes. This was the conduct of the volunteer delegate from Bath, although he had received written instructions, from the committee of Reformers of that city, to support Universal Suffrage.
As soon as Mr. Allen was seated, I rose to move an amendment to my friend Cobbett's motion, and, in my address to the delegates, I combatted and successfully controverted the doctrine of exclusion which had been so forcibly urged by the chairman, and so ingeniously supported by Mr. Cobbett. I modestly and with great deference called to their recollection the language, the irresistible arguments, in favour of Universal Suffrage, which, in his Register, Mr. Cobbett himself had published, within one short fortnight of the time in which I was addressing them. Almost every sentence that I uttered in favour of Universal Suffrage was hailed by the enthusiastic cheers of the great body of the delegates. Mr. Cobbett rose to order, and protested in strong language against my quoting his own words, or any thing he had previously published, in order to controvert his present proposition. I therefore forbore to do so again; not from any conviction of its impropriety or unfairness, but because I wished to conciliate, and because I was quite clear that my amendment would be carried. I concluded by asserting the right of every freeman to be represented in the Commons' House of Parliament, which could only be done by Universal Suffrage; and on this ground I moved that the word universal should be substituted for householder.
Mr. Hulme seconded the motion, and Mr. Bamford was about to support him, by refuting Mr. Cobbett's arguments with respect to Universal Suffrage being impracticable; but before he had concluded his sentence, Mr. Cobbett rose and said, that what Mr. Bamford had stated had convinced him of the practicability of Universal Suffrage, and consequently he should withdraw his motion, and support Mr. Hunt's amendment. The fact was, that Cobbett plainly saw that his motion would be lost by a large majority, and he had the policy not to press it to a division. I, however, insisted upon having the question put, and it was carried in favour of Universal Suffrage by a majority of twenty to one. The question of Annual Parliaments was also carried unanimously. Mr. Mitchell then moved, that votes should be taken by ballot; this was opposed also by Mr. Cobbett and others, but on a division it was carried by a majority of more than two to one. When I held my hand up for it, Mr. Cobbett turned to me and said very earnestly, "What! do you support the ballot too?" I answered "Yes, most certainly, to its fullest extent."
These points being decided, and some minor resolutions being passed, the meeting was adjourned; but, as I afterwards found, only to assemble again the next day, where the Major was at his post in the chair, passing various resolutions, which of course I expected would be finally settled that evening. We were, however, surprised to find that the meeting was adjourned to the King's Arms, Palace Yard, opposite Westminster Hall, where it was expected they (the delegates) would assemble from day to day till the Parliament met. This was thought by Mr. Cobbett, as well as by myself, to be not only a useless but a dangerous proceeding; useless, because the main question upon which the delegates met was settled; and dangerous, because it would be taken advantage of by the Government, which would construe such meetings, so continued, into an attempt to overawe the Parliament. Mr. Cobbett declared he would not go near them again; in fact, he had not attended the second day; and he added, that they would all be apprehended, for holding their meetings for an illegal purpose. He and I and Mr. Hulme all agreed, therefore, that as we had arranged those points to deliberate upon which we had been assembled, it was very desirable to dissolve the meeting, but to stir a single step to accomplish this end, Mr. Cobbett positively refused. Mr. Hulme and myself, however, attended, and after the Major had got some of his resolutions passed, I moved that the meeting should be dissolved, and urged my reasons for the measure. Mr. Hulme seconded my motion, and a warm debate ensued, which was maintained with great spirit on both sides, for the dissolution was strongly opposed. However, when the question was put, my motion was carried by a very considerable majority, and the far-famed delegate-meeting was dissolved. It is a curious fact that Mr. Cobbett never noticed these proceedings in his Register.
In the evenings of these meetings, many of the delegates assembled at the Cock, in Grafton-street, by invitation, to meet Dr. Watson, Pendrill, and others of the Spenceans. It appears that they were taken there by ONE CLEARY, an Irishman, who had been an attorney's clerk in Dublin, and who had contrived to be employed as the secretary of the Hampden Club, and who, as private secretary of Major Cartwright, attended the delegate meetings. These private meetings, at the Cock in Grafton-street, took place unknown to me, and were afterwards made a pretence for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act; and, strange to relate, warrants were issued out, by the Secretary of State, against every one of the persons who attended those meetings, except the said Cleary.
The delegates, as we have already seen, were in town; they had brought up with them petitions, signed by half a million of men, and they were anxious to place them in the hands of some Member of Parliament, who would present them and support the prayer of their petitions. But such a man was not easily to be found. Sir Francis Burdett had promised the Major to come to town in time to present these petitions, or at least some of them, as soon as Parliament met; but when he found that the delegates who had been assembled in his name had declared for Universal Suffrage, and that the petitions in London likewise mostly prayed for Reform upon the principle of Universal Suffrage, he declared that he would not support the prayer of them, neither had he arrived in town on the day previous to the meeting of Parliament.
On the failure of Sir Francis to come forward, Lord Cochrane had been applied to by the Major and Mr. Cobbett, to present these petitions; but he had declined to act in opposition to his colleague, Sir Francis Burdett; every effort had been tried to induce him to do so, but they had been tried in vain. At length I hit upon a plan, which I proposed to Mr. Cobbett. It was this—that on the day when the Parliament met, I would collect ten or twenty thousand people in the front of Lord Cochrane's house, which was in Old Palace Yard, and thus cut off his Lordship's access to the House, unless he would take in some of the petitions. I shall never forget Cobbett's look. "What!" said he, "would you besiege the man in his own house?" I answered, that desperate cases required desperate remedies. "Aye! aye!" said he, "that is very pretty talking, it is like belling the cat. Suppose such a thing likely to succeed with his Lordship, how the devil would you contrive to collect such a number of people there, without his knowing it, so as to avoid them, if he pleased?" I replied, "leave that to me. If you will go to his Lordship's house about one o'clock, and detain him at home, by endeavouring to persuade him to present the petitions, I will undertake to bring ten thousand people to the front of his house by two o'clock,"—the House of Commons being to assemble at three. In fact, there appeared no other alternative; for on the next day the Parliament was to meet, and we had not yet one single Member of Parliament who would present our petitions, all being unwilling, because they prayed for Universal Suffrage. After making a hundred excuses, Lord Cochrane had absolutely refused to present them; at least he refused to support the prayer of the petitioners. There being no other chance of accomplishing our purpose, Mr. Cobbett at length adopted my plan, and agreed to make the attempt as a sort of forlorn hope, and accordingly he promised to be at his Lordship's house at the time appointed.
I knew that great numbers of people would be collected, in and about Parliament-street, at that time, to see the Prince Regent go down to the House, to open the Session of Parliament. I therefore made an arrangement with all the delegates in town, to meet me at the Golden-Cross, Charing-Cross, a quarter before two o'clock, and requested that each man would bring with him his rolls of parchment, containing the petitions. This they all complied with, and met me at the time appointed, in number about twenty; it might be more or less. I informed them that I wished them to march, two and two, down Parliament-street, into Palace-yard, to the door of Lord Cochrane's house, who I had reason to hope would present their petitions, and I begged them to follow me. I then requested my friend Cossens to unroll a few yards of the Bristol petition, which I took in my hand, and proceeded down Parliament-street, at the head of the delegates. The people stared at such an exhibition; and I announced that the delegates were going down to Palace-yard, to get Lord Cochrane to present their petitions. This information was received with huzzas, and the people ran forward to communicate the intelligence to others, so that before we had got opposite the Horse Guards, we were attended by several thousand people, cheering us as they went along. When we arrived at the front of Lord Cochrane's house, there was the largest assembly that I ever saw in Palace-yard, all believing that his Lordship had undertaken to present our petitions.
I knocked at the door, and gained immediate access to his Lordship, with whom, as I expected, I found Mr. Cobbett. He asked what was the matter? I told him that the people had accompanied the delegates, to request his Lordship to present their petitions; to which he replied, "that Mr. Cobbett had been using every argument in his power to prevail upon him to do it, but he could not take such a step without consulting his colleague, Sir Francis Burdett." A great deal was now urged by us to induce him to comply, in which we were most heartily joined by his lady, but all was to little purpose. At length, I led him to the window, and requested him to address twenty thousand of his fellow-countrymen, and tell them himself that he refused to present their petitions; for that I certainly would never inform them of any such thing. Our appearance at the window drew forth some tremendous cheers. "There," said I, "my Lord, refuse their request, if you please; but if you do, I am sure that you will regret it as long as you live. Besides," added I, "I deny the possibility of your getting from your house, without your previously consenting to present their petitions." At length we carried our point, and his Lordship agreed that he would take in the Bristol petition, which was the largest, the roll of parchment being neatly the size of a sack of wheat, and containing twenty-five thousand signatures. It was rolled upon a bundle of sticks, tightly bound together, as an emblem of the strength of an united people. His Lordship also now agreed to move an amendment to the address, which had been previously drawn up, in hopes that he might be prevailed on to do so. The moment that his Lordship yielded to our entreaties, I flew down stairs to the door, and announced the intelligence to the assembled multitude, who received it with loud and long continued acclamations, which made Old Palace-yard and Westminster-Hall ring again. I then proposed that the delegates should carry his Lordship in a chair, from his house to the door of Westminster-Hall, if the people would make a passage to allow him to proceed thither in that way. This suggestion was instantly adopted; an arm chair was provided and placed at the door, in which his Lordship was seated, with the Bristol petition and the bundle of sticks rolled up in it. In this manner he was carried by the delegates across Palace-yard, myself leading the way; and he was set down at the door of the House, amidst the deafening cheers of the people, who, at my request, immediately dispersed in peace and quietness to their homes.
As the Prince Regent returned from opening the Session of Parliament, some gravel or a potatoe was thrown at his carriage, the window of which was cracked. This the Courier and the venal press made a great noise about the next day; and Lord James Murray, who was in the carriage with the Prince Regent, attended in his seat in the House of Commons, in the evening, and stated that the Prince Regent had been fired at, on his way from the House; and the ball had passed through the window of his coach. This caused a great sensation in the House, and the outrage was attributed to the Reformers, not one of whom do I believe was present; at any rate not one of the delegates was there. This greatly assisted the Ministers to carry their intended measures through both Houses; that of suspending the Habeas-Corpus Act, and that of passing the Seditious Meetings Bill.
Lord Cochrane presented the Bristol petition, and moved the following amendment to the address, which, as a vindication of the conduct of the Reformers, I will here record.
"That this House has taken a view of the public proceedings throughout the country, by those persons who have met to petition for a Reform of this House, and that, in justice to those persons, as well as to the people at large, and for the purpose of convincing the people that this House wishes to entertain and encourage no misrepresentation of their honest intentions, this House, with great humility, beg leave to assure his Royal Highness, that they have not been able to discover one single instance, in which meetings to petition for Parliamentary Reform have been accompanied with any attempt to disturb the public tranquillity; and this House further beg leave to assure his Royal Highness, that in order to prevent the necessity of those rigorous measures, which are contemplated in the latter part of the speech of his Royal Highness, this House will take into their early consideration the propriety of abolishing sinecures and unmerited pensions and grants, the reduction of the civil list, and of all salaries which are now disproportionate to the services, and especially, that they will take into their consideration the Reform of this House, agreeably to the laws and constitution of the land, this House being decidedly of opinion that justice and humanity, as well as policy, call at this time of universal distress, for measures of conciliation, and not of rigour, towards a people who have made so many and such great sacrifices, and who are now suffering, in consequence of those sacrifices, all the calamities with which a nation can be afflicted."
It is a melancholy subject for reflection, that there was not ONE man to be found in the House that would even SECOND this amendment, which was neither more nor less than a true account of the proceedings of the Reformers throughout the country; and in consequence of this, the motion fell to the ground without a division. Lord Cochrane continued night after night to present these petitions, brought up by the delegates; and the most remarkable event of these times was, that the very night that Lord Cochrane presented the petition from Bath, which especially pointed out the enormous sums annually received by their Recorder, Lord Camden, and which prayed for the abolition of his enormous sinecures; that very night a message was brought down to the House, and it was announced by one of the Ministers that Lord Camden had actually resigned his enormous sinecure of Teller of the Exchequer, which did not amount to less than thirty-five thousand pounds a year. No one will doubt that this act of his Lordship was occasioned solely by the resolutions and the petition passed at the Bath meeting. He well knew that Lord Cochrane had presented the Bristol petition, and had stated in the House that he had several other petitions to present; and amongst the number that from Bath, signed by upwards of twenty thousand persons. To prevent, therefore, the discussion which was likely to arise from the presentation of this petition, he anticipated the prayer of it, by resigning his sinecure of Teller of the Exchequer. How often have we been asked by the tools of corruption, what good was there in holding public meetings! We have been everlastingly told that these great public meetings, and the violent petitions passed at them, did a great deal of harm, but that they never produced any good. What these knaves mean by this is, that the House of Commons never attended to the prayers and petitions of the people, and that therefore it was of no use to persevere in petitioning. This, as far as it goes, is very true; the House of Commons never did attend to the petitions of the people for Reform; but yet I boldly answer, that petitioning has done some good; that the petition of the first Spafields meeting obtained four thousand pounds from the droits of the Admiralty, for the suffering poor of Spital-fields and the metropolis. This was some good. Again, I say, that the petition and the resolutions passed at the Bath meeting, caused Lord Camden to surrender thirty-five thousand a year to the public. This alone was some good. Nor must we stop here. Almost all the petitions in which I was ever concerned, petitioned for the abolition of all sinecure and useless places, and unmerited pensions; and I always particularly denounced the sinecures of the late Marquis of Buckingham, the other Teller of the Exchequer, and prayed and petitioned for its abolition. At the death of the old Marquis it was abolished. Does any man of sense and candour believe, for a moment, that this would have ever been done to this hour, if it had not been for the prayers, petitions, and remonstrances of the people? Here, then, is another saving of upwards of thirty thousand pounds a year.—Therefore, I say, that the great public meetings have done a great deal of good; and those who promoted them have rendered very considerable service to the country, although they have themselves been the victims of that system of tyranny and oppression, which, in these two instances alone, has had its plunder curtailed in more than sixty thousand pounds a year. Add to all this, that the Prince Regent surrendered fifty thousand pounds per annum to the public exigencies. Will any man say that the Regent would have done this, had it not been for the great public meetings held in Spafields and other places? and was this nothing? Again, Mr. Ponsonby resigned his Chancellor's pension of four thousand pounds a year. Is this nothing? Here I have shown that, within three months of the great meeting first held in Spafields, and between the second and third meeting which was advertised, no less a sum than NINETY THOUSAND POUNDS A YEAR was surrendered for the public exigencies; and was this doing nothing? To be sure, five persons had been found guilty of rioting on the day of the second Spafields meeting, and Cashman was sentenced to death; but this had nothing to do with the meeting itself, which met only for the purpose of petitioning Parliament, and peaceably separated, after agreeing to a petition, which was signed by twenty-four thousand persons, praying for Reform, and the abolition of all sinecures, and a reduction of the public expenditure; which petition had been presented, and received by the House of Commons, before these surrenders and resignations of these large sums were made. To be sure, Lord Sidmouth had delivered in the House of Lords a message from the Prince Regent, laying before Parliament the famous green bag, full of precious documents, got up to prove that sedition, conspiracy, and rebellion were close at hand; and that treasonable practices existed in London, and in various parts of the kingdom: upon which a committee was appointed by the Ministers, in both Houses of Parliament, to examine and report upon the contents of the said bag. The result of this was, that Mr. Evans, of Newcastle-street, the Spencean, and his son, were arrested on a charge of high treason!
About this time I received a letter from the Reformers of Portsmouth, requesting me to attend and preside at a public meeting, which they wished to hold in or near that town, to petition for Reform. I showed this letter to Mr. Cobbett, who said, "I know these people; I will answer that letter for you, and arrange with them all about their meeting. As you are so much engaged in other matters at this time, I will take this trouble off your hands, and you will have nothing to do but to attend the meeting when the day is appointed." This offer I cheerfully accepted, and I thought no more of the business till I saw it publicly announced that a meeting would be held on Portsdown-Hill, on the 10th day of February, the very day that was fixed for holding the third Spafields meeting; and that was done without consulting or saying a word to me upon the subject, although I was the only person written to by the people of Portsmouth. It did certainly strike me at the time, that there appeared to be a good deal of trickery and management made use of to keep me from this meeting. As, however, I was never jealous of any one myself, I had no suspicion that my friends were jealous of me, and I took no notice of it, though I was sorry to find that to the people who met on Portsdown, no apology or explanation was made for my absence, or at least for the meeting being held on the day that I was at Spafields; and I have reason to think that the people of Portsmouth, who first invited me, were very much disappointed at my not being present, and that they felt themselves slighted by me, which, I assure them, was the farthest thing in the world from my wish or intention.
While my friends were acting in this manner, my enemies were not idle, and the agents of Government, in order to injure me in the opinion of the public, not only vilified and abused and libelled me from day to day, in the public newspapers, but they actually caused a placard to be printed and posted all over the metropolis, which was headed "Mr. Hunt hissed out of the City of Bristol," and contained all sorts of infamous falsehoods and scurrilous abuse. It appeared from the newspapers that a boy, of the name of Thomas Dugood, had been committed to prison, by a Police Magistrate, for having pulled down one of these posting-bills. I immediately set about an inquiry, to find out the poor boy, to endeavour to relieve him from his imprisonment, and to gain him some redress for the persecution which he had suffered. To discover where the boy was, I went to the Police Office, and, after a great deal of shuffling, I was directed to Coldbath-fields Prison, which, as I subsequently found, was the wrong gaol, the boy having been committed to the New Prison. In the mean time, however, finding that I was resolved to go to the bottom of the business, they had released the boy. At length I found him out at his lodgings, and learned from him that he had been confined for several days among the vilest felons. I took him to the Police Office, to identify the Magistrate that committed him, and there I caused the police officer, Limbrick, to be placed at the bar, for robbing the boy of his books and money at the time he was apprehended. The inquiry ended in the said police officer returning the boy his books and money, and confessing that he was ordered to attend the posting of the said bills, and to protect them from being pulled down after they were posted. The bills were printed at the office of the Hue and Cry, near Temple-bar, and an agent of the Government paid the bill-sticker a large sum for the posting of them in the night. Finding that I could get no redress for the boy at the Police Office, I took him into the Court of King's Bench, and appealed to the Judges. But Lord Ellenborough could do nothing for him. By the stir which I made, however, the case got into all the papers, and the conduct of the Government was completely exposed. I then caused a petition from Dugood to be presented to the House by Lord Folkestone, and another petition of my own, by Lord Cochrane. The Under Secretary of State, Mr. Hiley Addington, promised that the conduct of the Police Magistrate should be inquired into; but ultimately it was ascertained that Lord Sidmouth had no power to interfere. The Magistrate, Mr. Sellon, who had committed the boy, was not a Police Magistrate, but a Magistrate of the county of Middlesex; therefore his Lordship could not interfere, and the boy must, forsooth, proceed at law against the Magistrate. I shall here insert the petitions that were presented to the House, which will place this transaction in a clear point of view before my readers, and will show them to what meanness the Government submitted, in order to injure my character with the public, and to destroy the influence which they discovered that I had over the people. This transaction will speak for itself without any further comment of mine. "To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled.
"The Petition of Thomas Dugood, of the Parish of St. Paul, Covent-Garden, in the City of Westminster,
"That your petitioner is a parentless and friendless boy, seventeen years of age, who, until lately seized by two Police Officers and sent to prison by the police, obtained the honest means of living by the sale of Religious and Moral Tracts, which he used to purchase of Mr. Collins, of Paternoster-row.
"That your petitioner has, for more than four months last past, lodged, and he still lodges, at the house of Keeran Shields, who lives at No. 13, Gee's-court, Oxford-street, and who is a carter to Mr. White, of Mortimer-street, and who is also a watchman in Marybone parish.
"That your petitioner has never in his life lived as a vagrant, but has always had a settled home, has always pursued an honest and visible means of getting his living, has always been, and is ready to prove that he always has been an industrious, a peaceable, sober, honest, and orderly person.
"That, on the 10th of January, 1817, your petitioner, for having pulled down a posting bill, entitled, "Mr. Hunt hissed out of the City of Bristol," was committed by Mr. Sellon to the New Prison, Clerkenwell, where he was kept on bread and water and compelled to lie on the bare boards until the twenty-second of the same month, when he was tied, with about fifty others, to a long rope, or cable, and marched to Hicks's Hall, and there let loose.
"That your petitioner has often heard it said, that the law affords protection to the poor as well as to the rich, and that, if unable to obtain redress any where else, every subject of his Majesty has the road of petition open to him; therefore your petitioner, being unable to obtain redress in any other manner for the grievous wrongs done him by the Magistrate of the police, most humbly implores your Honourable House to afford him protection and redress, and to that end he prays your Honourable House to permit him to prove at the bar of your Honourable House all and several the allegations contained in this his most humble petition.
"And your petitioner will ever pray.
"THOMAS DUGOOD.""To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled.
"The Petition of Henry Hunt, of Middleton Cottage, in the County of Southampton,
"That your petitioner, being ready to prove at the bar of your Honourable House, that there has been carried on a conspiracy against his character, and eventually aimed at his life, by certain persons, receiving salaries out of the public money, and acting in their public capacity, and expending for this vile purpose a portion of the taxes; and there being, as appears to him, no mode of his obtaining a chance of security, other than those which may be afforded him by Parliament, he humbly sues to your Honourable House to yield him your protection.
"That your petitioner has always been a loyal and faithful subject, and a sincere and zealous friend of his country. That, at a time, during the first war against France, when there were great apprehensions of invasion, and when circular letters were sent round to farmers and others to ascertain what sort and degree of aid each would be willing to afford to the Government in case of such emergency, your petitioner, who was then a farmer in Wiltshire, did not, as others did, make an offer of a small part of his moveable property, but that, really believing his country to be in danger, he, in a letter to the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Pembroke, freely offered his all, consisting of several thousands of sheep, a large stock of horned cattle, upwards of twenty horses, seven or eight waggons and carts with able and active drivers, several hundreds of quarters of corn and grain, and his own person besides, all to be at the entire disposal of the Lord Lieutenant; and this your petitioner did without any reserved claim to compensation, it being a principle deeply rooted in his heart, that all property, and even life itself, ought to be considered as nothing, when put in competition with the safety and honour of our country. And your petitioner further begs leave to state to your Honourable House, that, at a subsequent period, namely, in the year 1803, when an invasion of the country was again apprehended, and when it was proposed to call out volunteers to serve within certain limits of their houses, your petitioner called around him the people of the village of Enford, in which he lived, and that all the men in that parish (with the exception of three) capable of bearing arms, amounting to more than two hundred in number, immediately enrolled themselves, and offered to serve, not only within the district, but in any part of the kingdom where the enemy might land, or be expected to land, and this offer was by your petitioner transmitted to Lord Pembroke, who expressed to your petitioner his great satisfaction at the said offer, and informed him, that he, would make a point of communicating the same to his Majesty's Ministers.