London Radicalism 1830-1843: A Selection of the Papers of Francis Place. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1970.
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The Union was now virtually extinct. For some time past its use as a Political Union had ceased, was at an end.
Such Associations can never flourish but in times when the people are greatly and justly excited, by some particular movement of the Government, or when some great difficulty occurs and the government either from incapacity or wilfulness becomes apathetic, in either case the people will sometimes, not always, determine that a change of some sort shall be made. All other ebullitions are merely party contests in which the people are sure to be sacrificed whichever faction triumphs.
Circumstances such as these have hitherto been of rare occurrence in this country, they will be less and less rare in future, public opinion is only of recent growth but it will continue to grow with increasing rapidity, and will become more and more potent. It is only of late years that the masses of the people have ever shewn a deliberate disposition to act together for any purpose. This it is which makes an administration which is feeble in all other respects, strong against the people, who will, in ordinary times submit to almost any oppression so it be brought upon them slowly and quietly, and as it is in every way the practice of those who govern, as well as of the class of society, to govern for their own convenience and advantage solely, and not for the people generally, they act accordingly. It is only when they who compose the government have gone on in this way for a considerable time and met with little or no interruption that having become secure and consequently careless, they commit some gross error, which rouses the people to a shew of resistance. It was the supposed security of the government and the contempt it necessarily engendered for the people which induced the Duke of Wellington to make the uncalled for declaration which unseated the Tories and compelled the Whigs to propose a reform of parliament in the House of Commons. It was this flagrant act of folly into which the Duke was misled by his notion of security and his consequent misconception of his power that gave the advantage to his opponents at the moment the people were disposed to support them that led to the transactions which have been recorded. It was all these circumstances operating at the same time that roused the people to take the active part they did in their own affairs. Whenever this happens it puts the people so much out of their ordinary way—is so incompatible with their habits, so injurious to them in many ways, that having once interfered to any considerable extent, they fall back and sink to a considerable extent into a state of acquiescence from which much time and much ill usage can alone again rouse them. In a state of this kind they were placed at the commencement of the year 1833.
The Reform Bills were passed, the new parliament was about to meet and the people were quietly waiting for its opening in vague expectation that when assembled it would do something though they did not know what.
Any effort to keep up the Union, as a Political Union would have been absurd, and could not have succeeded. . . .
Many amongst the best members of the National Political were desirous to perpetuate the Union, not indeed as a Political Union but as a place of instruction. Many of those members who had headed the discontented, having first made them discontented, had left the Union and it was not at all doubted that many more would neglect to take out their tickets for the new quarter. Thus freed from men who would have kept up an evil spirit of contentious animosity it was intended to make an attempt to establish a reading room, a weekly lecture, a circulating library, and school in which Arithmetic—some Geometry—Geography—Grammar might be taught to the young members. They were individually willing to give some money and endeavour to induce others who were not members to contribute in the same way. I was consulted respecting this scheme, and from the experience I had of such projects was compelled to believe that it would not be found practicable.
65. [Add. Ms. 27796, ff. 336-8. Printed advertisement in the Poor Man's Guardian.]
That at the assembling of the first 'Reformed' Parliament, we prepare and present a challenge, or invitation, from a specific number of the 'National Union of the Working Classes' (to be appointed for that purpose) to meet a like number of Members of the said Parliament, for the purpose of discussing the justice of the claims of the non-electors to equal representation.
On the 17 [December 1832] the resolution proposed in the preceding advertisement was moved at the usual general meeting of the [National] Union [of the Working Classes].
The chairman proposed it as one of vital importance and took some pains to convince his audience that his assertion was correct.
Mr Duffey opposed the motion, he wondered how such nonsense had got into the Guardian, and could not tell how the committee could propose such buffoonery. The proposition was only calculated to make the Union look ridiculous and contemptible. He might not be applauded for saying this, but, he would never court their applause on any but just and proper grounds. What was it they had laid before them for their consideration?— just nothing, or what was worse, that which was nonsensical or mischievous. It was just the thing to gratify their enemies. Challenge the Parliament indeed. There was no question it was a piece of buffoonery altogether. As to the competition of talent that was nonsense. There would be men of talent in the house who were their friends. Hume—O Connell—Cobbett—Fielden and others. (cheers) Let them then abandon this, quixotic—paltry—and disgraceful resolution, and let their friends act on right principles for them, while they, the Working-classes, gave them an influential direction. Before they could achieve any thing, they must conquer the prejudices of public opinion. If they boasted of talent, they should shew it by being judicious, their bravery should be directed by sense and discretion. If they shewed the feeling of what the Times called the Destructives, the country would turn away from them with horror, but if they acted wisely, they would convince both Whigs and Tories they were not the wretches they were said to be. What more could the enemy desire to have than the power to exhibit this resolution in the house of commons. He was ashamed to be one of a Union whence such a thing could emanate—rather let there be no Union than such a proposition as this. He had before censured the committee, and a more disgraceful act than this could not have been brought forward.
He continued for some time in the same strain, when the Chairman asked several times who seconded the motion, but no one doing so, it dropped.
This was followed by a furious altercation which continued for some time when the meeting broke up without any resolution having been passed.
66. [Add. Ms. 27796, f. 213. National Political Union. Printed.]
67. [Add. Ms. 27796, ff. 251-2]
Sometime previous to the election of the new Council on the 5th and 6th of February several of those members whom I most respected urgently requested me to permit my name to be put upon the list of candidates. They argued that unless we remained united and worked together as circumstances required, the government of the Union would fall into the hands of those who had caused the late dissentions, be by them conducted in an improper manner, be involved in a heavy debt and terminate in a very disreputable way. That it was possible and some of them thought it probable there might be a rallying of the members and a useful Institution for the working people established. I had no expectation that these hopes and expectations would be realised. I was satisfied that the working people would not subscribe in sufficient numbers nor consent to pay a sufficient subscription to keep up any such institution among themselves, and the time was gone by, at least for the present when others, not of their class would assist them to an extent at all likely to be useful. I however consented to have my name put upon the list, and promised to work with them for the accomplishment of their project until circumstances should prove, that their expectations could not be realised, that I should then cease to attend the meetings of the Council and would at any time resign my seat in the Council. I was elected, and attended the subsequent meeting on the 11 of february, when finding that the number of members who had renewed their tickets was so small that their subscriptions would be wholly inadequate to carry on the Union for any purpose whatever, I did not attend again, and I informed the business committee, that I was ready to resign my office or to attend on any emergency to prevent any injudicious proceedings.
Matters had now come to a crisis, several of the most useful and respectable of the members of the Council had resigned and their places were filled by others whose names stood next on the balloting list. Some of these were ill conditioned men, ignorant, self willed, and intent on their own convenience only.
The Union had degenerated in every respect and could not be sustained any longer. It was clearly shewn that if; as many wished; an attempt was made to keep the Union in an active state of existence a very considerable amount of debt would be incurred and for which a comparatively small number of members of the council would be responsible. I therefore agreed to attend with several others at the meeting this evening [5 June] and make an attempt to convince the council, that it was impossible to keep the Union in existence for any useful purpose and that the only rational course they could take was to bring it to a close as soon as possible.
Much pains were taken to accomplish these ends, but all our efforts were useless, and this determined me to resign.
68. [Add. Ms. 27796, ff. 290-1]
69. [Place Collection, set 63, vol. 1, f. 265. National Political Union.]
Final Balance Sheet of National Political Union Jan. 28 1834
|By various disbursements since the close as per cash book||£47||8||
Balance in hand see below
The above Acc't included the sum of £21 voted by the Council to the Secretary as remuneration for his services a few weeks previous to closing the Union but does not include any thing for the attendance which he has been necessarily compelled to give to the business since that period.
The Cash book is of course open to the examination of any parties interested in the business and I shall be most happy to give to such any explanation they may require.
J. D. Styles