London Radicalism 1830-1843 A Selection of the Papers of Francis Place. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1970.
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This quarterly report shews very plainly the declining state of the National Union of the Working Men. All the Great Political Unions all those indeed which were not conducted by working men had either gone out of existence or were in a condition which disabled them from being efficient or capable of any thing beyond an occasional meeting and even this was not properly an act of the union but of some few of its leading members who used its name, but paid the expenses out of their own pockets, none of these unions having any money in the hands of its treasurer.
Those among the working people who had hitherto taken part in political matters were disappointed and chagrined, and by far the greater part of them were hopeless, they had no share in the suffrage, and were wholly abandoned by the middle classes. They had themselves however to blame for much of the neglect they now endured, and for the want of assistance they might have secured. They acted with great indiscretion and frequently with much injustice. Some of their leaders had on many occasions shewn a strong desire to lead them into mischievous courses. They had purposely offended all who were not of the working class, and had from time to time done much to alarm them, as well for what they call their liberty as for their property and consequently for their lives and property. This had a bad effect in two discetions [directions]. First in destroying all sympathy for them in every other class, and second in destroying confidence among themselves, sewing dissentions and animosities in their own class. This result was very clearly forseen and pointed out to them in the disputes they had with the National Political Union in October 1831. Caution was useless, they could not be advised, and the result of their perseverance in vilifying all who were not working people, drove away from them nearly every man who was in a condition and had a disposition to serve them. In their own class even there never were enough of them associated at any place to enable their managers to do what was requisite to make their proceedings to be made known, they never subscribed among themselves money enough to pay for the insertion of their proceedings in the newspapers, nor to publish occasional tracts or addresses for distribution.
It ought not however to be objected to the working men who took the lead among themselves that they demanded Universal Suffrage etc. No other suffrage would reach them and as they sincerely believed that nearly all the evils of which they complained were caused by bad government, and that the only remedy was in the members of the house of commons being fairly chosen by the whole of the male inhabitants of the country, they made a sacrifice whenever they consented to assist to procure for others, advantages in which they could not participate. This sacrifice was made by a very great number of working men but it never was made by any body of them, when they were formed into Unions. The members of the unions forming by far the smallest portion of the active body of working men. They would have done better and have had more influence had they gone on teaching their class; and inducing them to observe such conduct in their associations as could not reasonably have been objected to, but of this they were not capable. They had been misled and bewildered by the misty doctrine of Robert Owen and others who taught, to them, the agreeable doctrine that whatever was made by or was the consequence of any actions of any man belonged to that man, or that the whole produce of every community should be equally divided among such of the members of the community as were willing to perform equal shares of labour, and these notions made them look upon all who were not of their own class as their deliberate and determined enemies. They who entertained and still entertain these notions were and are an immense number of the working people, by far the greatest part of whom are fully persuaded that the working men in their unions and associations do not go as far as they ought to go, and this is the principal reason why but few comparatively join them, as it is the cause of great numbers leaving them after they have joined, and from these causes always keeping the whole number of working men politically associated too few to produce any important consequence. These were the causes which extinguished the National Union of Working Men and every other similar Union.
The year  ended leaving the [National] Union [of the Working Classes] in a state of much depression. The nonsensical doctrines preached by Robert Owen and others respecting communities and goods in common; abundance of every thing men ought to desire and all for four hours labour out of every 24. The right of every man to his share of the earth in common, and his right to whatever his hands had been employed upon. The power of masters under the present system to give just what wages they pleased, the right of the labourer to such wages as would maintain him, and his, in comfort for 8 or 10 hours labour; the right of every man who was unemployed to employment and to such an amount of wages as have been indicated, and other matters of a similar kind, which were continually inculcated by the working mens political unions, by many small knots of persons, printed in small pamphlets, and hand bills which were sold twelve for a penny, and distributed to a great extent, had pushed politics aside to a great extent among the working people. These pamphlets were written almost wholly by men of talent and of some standing in the world, professional men, gentlemen, manufacturers, tradesmen, and men called literary. The consequence was, that a very large proportion of the working people in England and Scotland became persuaded that they had only to combine as it was concluded they might easily do, to compel not only a considerable advance of wages all round, but employment for every one, man and woman who needed it, at short hours. This notion induced them to form themselves into Trades Union in a manner and to an extent never before known. These combinations, which were harmless, and useful, upon the whole, altho' they for a very short time caused some inconvenience to many master tradesmen and manufactures [sic] and in many instances distress among the work people were necessary to convince the masses of the impossibility of their succeeding in the present state of society and induced a vast number of the best conditioned among them to conclude that the ends they aimed at could not be accomplished until the whole people were properly educated, and this persuasion with the signal failure of the Trades Unions will for many years to come prevent a repitition of the folly, and it is more than probable the increase of intelligence in the meantime will prevent such another effort from ever again being made, better means of arranging matters between masters and workmen will probably be adopted and the necessity for men striking to prevent the reduction of their wages, or to bring these up again when they have been reduced, and all the evil consequences which attend such strikes of the men, and of the masters also will be then avoided.
It was impossible under these circumstances that the National Union of the Working Classes, or any other such political unions could flourish or even exist at all, except as this in London did, as matter of form kept up pertinaciously by a few with scarcely any members to compose it.
Mr Lovett is an honest sincere courageous man. He is a tall thin rather melancholy man about 32 years of age in ill health to which he has long been subject, at times he is somewhat hypocondriacal, his is a spirit misplaced. If instead of being a journeyman cabinet maker he had been so circumstanced as to have received only an ordinary share of education and the means of obtaining leisure, he would have read more extensively than [he] has been able in his state to do, he would have gone on improving himself, have associated with persons of greater acquirements than his lot has enabled him to associate with, he would have gone on from one improvement to another and would have become a remarkable and very useful man. His feelings for his fellow workmen are intense, and his close attention to small particulars in too many cases has prevented him obtaining knowledge of general principles, and caused him to be a practical man. It is not therefore at all surprising that Lovett should become a disciple of Robert Owen, an advocate of the absurd notions he entertained of appropriating the whole wealth of the nation to the use of all in common in his paralellograms [sic], nor that he like many others unable after a time to perceive that any progress towards the accomplishment of their wishes was made should abandon Robert Owen and his absurdities, to adopt other opinions and proceedings not less absurd respecting the production and distribution of every thing which results from the labour of mens hands, and maintain that the whole should belong to those by whose labour it was produced, and that he being as brave as honest should propagate his notions to the fullest extent of his means, and sometimes to make practical demonstrations, not apparently in accordance with the actions of a sensible man, but it should be remembered that when a man, to any extent, becomes a fanatic, however well he may be informed, however correctly he may reason, and however rationally he may act on other matters, he acts to some extent absurdly in respect to the particular notions he entertains on the subject of his fanaticism, his monomania. This is the case of William Lovett. He however has to some extent relinquished his opinions and will probably as he becomes a better political economist become altogether a reasonable and valuable member of society.
It will be seen that the National Union of the Working Classes—never consisted of a very large body of actual members, * though it had considerable influence at particular moments. It would have been composed of more thousands than it reckoned hundreds, had it not been that some of its managers shewed themselves to be great rogues, who at their public meetings at the Rotunda a large place on the Surrey side of Black Friars Bridge, where weekly meetings were held, and at other places shewed but too plainly, that their object was by any and every means to possess themselves of the property of others, & to produce general confusion by which they hoped to gain. The Union had however great influence over a considerable portion of the working people, more especially in the great manufacturing counties. During the time the reform bills were before the parliament this was particularly the case, the attention of the whole people was then drawn to the subject, and the working people were quite as much excited as any class whatever. The ways in which their excitement was manifested, though unwisely in many respects directed, proved that there was an immense improvement among the working people as compared with other, not very remote periods.
The consequence of this excitement was a general persuasion that the whole produce of the labourers and workmens hands should remain with them, and this persuasion still remains, as an impediment to their progress in many important particulars.
|1st quarter commencing 1 July—there were 86 classes—cash—||30||9||4½|
|3rd||do||1 Jan. 1833||77||34||7||8|
|Averaging per quarter||69||£104||5||7½|
The above sum of £104 5 7½ gives 1,043 members paying two shillings each per year. Mr Russell estimates an equal number who paid only occasionally at times of great excitement and yet reckoned themselves members. 'A still greater number of persons attended our meetings who were admitted by paying a penny at the door.'
Now as each member paid a penny a week, or one shilling a quarter, the number will be just half the estimated number of 521 actual members, and the best enquiries I was able to make at the time satisfy me that about 500 was the actual number of the members. It is probable that there were 1,500 including those who 'paid occasionally yet were reckoned members'. The number who attended in the course of a year as auditors paying 1d or 2d for admission would amount to several thousands, there were several inducements to persons to go to these strange meetings once or occasionally. The Rotunda would probably contain 1,000 persons and I have seen hundreds outside the doors for whom there was no room within.
I feel ashamed in not having complied with a request you made me several months since, to furnish you with a narrative of the union of the working classes. Yet sir so many circumstances have transpired to prevent me from writing it (which I will not trouble you to enumerate) that now I have sent it you, I hope to claim your forgiveness. I informed you in my answer to your request, 'that I was no writer', and that consequently my narrative would be very imperfect as to all those essentials so necessary in any thing worthy of publicity. But as I presume that you only want the outline of facts and dates to fill up in your own style, I have not troubled you with many observations or opinions of my own unless were [sic] I thought they might serve to assist you. I have not filled up a considerable portion of it but have refered [sic] to what I think the best accounts, and information on the subject refered to, most of which I send you. I have shown what I have written to Hetherington and Watson and they have agreed on the authenticity of the facts contained in it. You will perceive that I have forborn to speak of the characters of those who took an active part in the union, the reason is, that they are as well known to you as to myself. And being one of them (though differing from many) I choose to be painted black or white as you may think we deserve; rather than attempt to dress up my companions, as if to show the good company I kept, or speak to others prejudice, claiming exceptions according to my fancy. If you want any further information within my power to supply, you may command my humble service.
I am no ways desirous than any save yourself should know of what I have written, it might beget bad feelings especialy [sic] amongst the prejudiced in my own class. I remain sir, an admirer of your present exertions in the cause of truth and justice.
The National Union of the 'Working Classes and others' sprung out of another association entitled the British Association for promoting Cooperative Knowledge. And in order to account for many of the peculiarities of the former, differing as it did from other unions of the same period, in its advocacy of first principles and abstract opinions of right and justice, as well as to asertain [sic] if possible the motives of those characters who took a conspicuous part in its proceedings; some little account of the latter might not be devoid of interest. The British Association was formed on the 11th of May 1829 [principally?] by a number of persons who belonged to a society just established in Red Lion Square, called the London Co-operative Trading Association. The object of which was to accumulate a capital for co-operative purposes, by dealing amongst themselves and acquaintances, and reserving the profits of the retail dealer. This Trading Association subsequently removed to jerusalaem [sic] passage Clerkenwell, and there it was that the British Association was projected. The persons most conspicuous in forming this association were James Watson, Wm Lovett, John Cleave, George Foskett, Robert Wigg, Philip and George Skene, Wm Millard, Thomas Powell and subsequently Henry Hetherington and Benjamin Warden. Those persons having read and admired the writings of Owen, Thompson, Morgan, Gray and others, resolved to be instrumental, to the extent of their abilities in disceminating [sic] their works throughout the country. They also sought, in the propagation of their principles, to avoid the course Robt Owen had steered, which they conceived had materialy [sic] impeded his progress; that of insisting on principles strongly opposed to the prejudices of the multitude; and condemning, though in his usual philanthropy, the Radical Reformers. By which proceedings they were led to consider him as a person inimical to their interests, and accordingly they attended his meetings and carried resolutions counter to his own. The persons above named therefore during Mr Owens visit to America, resolved to take up such parts of his system as they conceived would be appreciated by the majority of the working classes; and be the means of uniting reformers of every grade. Taking especial care to learn those subjects on which great differences of opinion existed, to time and uppertunity [sic]; or, when men having experienced the benefits resulting from a part of his system, they might be led to investigate the whole. They held their Committee meetings weekly, and meetings of their members and the public quarterly: they made arrangements by which those who had to address the public, had some time for preparing themselves, by which means those meetings were more interesting and effective. Their reports were published quarterly and distributed throughout the country, and as affording some proofs in favour of their policy, together with the novelty of their plans (as they forcibly impressed on the working classes the importance of Trading Associations) that in less than six months from their commencement they had been the means of forming upwards of two hundred of those associations, extending from one extremity of the kingdom to the other. They had their committees of correspondence giving advice and assistance and promulgating their co-operative views. Persons in remote parts of the kingdom hearing of their projects, and requiring information, were supplied with books on the subject; and in this manner more was done in the space of twelve months to disceminate Mr Owens peculiar views, than perhaps he had done himself during his long carrier [sic]. This society was also entrusted by benevolent individuals with considerable sums of money to apply to co-operative purposes, which they did in the employment of several Spitalfields weavers: eventually they opened a Bazaar at 19 Greville Street Hatton Garden for the purpose of disposing of the produce, and for facilitating exchanges between the societies in town and country. This part of their arrangements oweing [sic] to mismanagement was a failure. They had not been more than twelve months in existance [sic] when Mr Owen returned from America, he commenced by condemning them as altogether opposed to his system and it was not till after a visit to Manchester at one of their delegate meetings, that he was induced to acknowledge their importance. Many of his most zealous disciples bowing to his first decrees had in the interim seceeded [sic] from their societies which had led to their breaking up, in addition, many of those who were strict religionists had been terrified from supporting the British Association on account of many of its members attending and supporting Mr Owens Sunday morning lectures. Eventually the funds ceased to come in, meetings could not be got up, printing could not be any longer paid for and dissentions respecting Mr Owens views led to the breaking up of an Association that did much good, and if it had continued, bid fair to do more than any association of working men about this period. It may be well to observe that many of those trading associations it had been instrumental in forming are still in existance, especialy in the north of England though the major part are broken up. It would seem that the great cause of their failure was the want of some law to secure their property—to sue and be sued in the name of their Treasurer, Secretary, or other officer; the want of which caused many individuals to make off with their funds—and by throwing great responsibility on others was the means of the most of them breaking up. To return however to the British Association the central organ of all these societies; some months previous to its dissolution, a few carpenters who were in the habit of meeting at the Argyle Arms Argyle Street, and being imbued with co-operative views were desirous of carrying out some modified plans of the British [Association], waited at the suggestion of Henry Hetherington on the committee for assistance. Henry Hetherington, Benj. Warden and George Foskett were accordingly appointed for that purpose and attended their first meeting at the above place on Wednesday the 2nd of March 1831. They first called themselves the 'Metropolitan Trades Union' and subsequently took the more extensive name of the 'National Union of the Working Classes and Others'. At this first meeting persons were appointed to draw up a circular to be sent to the Trade, Benefit, and Co-operative societies of London and its vicinity. Messrs Foskett and Warden addressed the meeting at great length; principly [sic] on the importance of the working classes as producers of wealth, and the consequent justice of their retaining a greater portion of it than they usualy [sic] did. About a fortnight from this period several hundreds of those circulars were issued, calling on the above societies to appoint one or more intelligent members of their respective bodies to meet at the Argyle Arms, for the purpose of arranging the details of a plan, and to draw up a constitution for the purpose of carrying the following objects into effect—
2 To afford support and protection individualy and collectively to every member of the Union; to enhance the value of labour by diminishing the hours of employment—and to adopt such measures as may be deemed necessary to increase the domestic comforts of working men.
The Union continued its meetings every Wednesday and the room was generaly crowded principly by delegates of societies—persons were actively engaged in attending Trade and other associations and inducing them to unite in this general union; Hetherington and Warden were especialy useful in this respect as they were in the habit of addressing working men and especialy prest [sic] those points on their attention which cannot fail to have their effect—such as the extremes of wealth and wretchedness, of ill paid industry and overpaid idleness and uselessness. The consequence was that the place of meeting was to [sic] small for their purpose; and they accordingly removed to the Assembly Rooms 36 Castle Street Oxford Market April the 20th 1831. At this place they were joined by G. Petrie, James Savage, John Russell, J. Osborn and others who publicly took part in their proceedings. Excepting their usual weekly meetings nothing of importance occured [sic] untill May the 25th when Hetherington, Foskett, Warden and two others brought forward the following 'Declaration and Rules for the Constitution and Government of the union', which after several nights discussion were adopted and printed for distribution. See Guardian May 27 1831.
After the adoption of the above declaration and rules considerable numbers of the working classes joined them. And as the affairs of the British Association were by this time brought to a close, the remainder of its Committee, consisting of John Cleave, James Watson, Wm Lovett, Julian Hibbert, and several others joined this new union. Those persons considering it a fit uppertunity for blending their own peculiar views of society, more especially of production and distribution of wealth, with those of the Radical Reformers. By which policy they soon innoculated [sic] many of those who previously stood alofe [sic] from the Co-operators, considering them as persons who retarded reform. Hence we find their resolutions and speeches partook more or less of a co-operative character, as well as of the extremes of radicalism; somewhat modified in violence of feeling from the radicals who preceeded [sic] them. Makeing [sic] exceptions however for two or three of the committee whose violence of temperment [sic] or prejudiced notions often betrayed them beyond those bounds of moderation prescribed by the majority. Wm Benbow about this time also joined them, and induced the Committee to hold their meetings at his Coffee House Temple Bar. They were held on Wednesday evenings and were open to all those members who choose [sic] to attend to hear their proceedings or even to suggest any thing they deemed important, but not to take further part in the business. At these meetings a general subject of discussion was selected which was discussed throughout the union at their different places of meeting; persons from the committee were also appointed to speak at their places, so to prevent delay or inconvenience, at the same time any other member was at liberty to speak but no strangers.
On the following June the prosecution of Henry Hetherington the printer and publisher of the Poor Mans Guardian, the father of unstamped publications; called for their additional energies and support, it being considered their leading organ. Not that reports of their proceedings were confined to it, as the Ballot newspaper, Carpenters Magazine and several others gave accounts of their meetings; but from the fact of it having been established for the purpose of deceminating cheap political information, and spreading ultra doctrines of reform on all subjects, it obtained the preference and first place in their estimation. As soon therefore as the prosecution commenced, they got up meetings on the subject, and passed several resolutions expressive of their determination to support, not only Hetherington by selling and purchasing his Guardian; but all others who might in any way become the victims of prosecution in endeavouring to deseminate cheap political knowledge amongst the people. They accordingly commenced subscribing towards a fund which they designated the 'Victim Fund', Wm Lovett was appointed the secretary and Wm D. Saull the Treasurer, a committee was also elected to govern and manage the fund. Though the sum subscribed was not considerable (about £360) they relieved nearly three hundred persons who were imprisoned for selling unstamped publications, either by rendering some small assistance to their families during their imprisonment, or supplying them with the means of purchasing other papers when they came out, and thus renewing the warfare against the government. By this means they keept [sic] up the exitement [sic] among the people against those odious laws, and by publishing the details of cruelty to which the prisoners were subjected, by petitions and remonstrances to the legislature, the exertions of this committee coupled with those of the Guardian who published in deffiance [sic] of the laws, were the most efficient means of generating that public opinion which now exists on the subject of abolishing all laws which impede the progress of knowledge. The ensueing [sic] month several delegates from the country being in London it was determined that the union should hold a public meeting on the subjects of just and equal representation and the prosecution of Mr Hetherington. A large meeting was therefore held at Portman Market Lisson Grove on Monday July the 11th Mr T. Wakley in the chair, several spirited resolutions were past [sic] on universal suffrage, vote by ballot and no property qualifications—as well as the following on the liberty of the press.
That this meeting views with alarm and indignation the repeated attempts of a Whig ministry to shackle the press by attempting to withhold from man the liberty of expressing his opinions and interfering with that great law of nature which when it gave him the power to speak, also gave him the right to speak as he thought.
In as much as the political events of this period arroused [sic] almost all classes to the consideration of some change; unless indeed those interested in corruptions and oppressions—and as no class had suffered more from the withering influence of corrupt men and measures than the working classes they fondly hoped that the national union, in conjunction with others, would enable them to rise in the scale of political power, and through the medium of just legislation better their social condition. Hence they looked fondly forward with hope, and joined in such numbers that it became necessary to divide their numbers into classes and to hold meetings in different parts of the Metropolis. Their prominent places of meeting were the following. The parent or central place of meeting at the Rotunda Blackfriars Road, Windmill Street Chapel Finsbury Square, Castle Street Assembly Rooms, at the Blind Beggar Bethnal Green, the Duke of York Hammersmith, the Halifax Arms Mile End, at the Three Compasses Bermonsey [sic], the Yorkshire Grey Hampstead, at the Sydney Arms Commercial Road, the Lecture Room Theobalds Road and several other places occasionally. But perhaps the most usefull of their meetings were those of their classes. Whenever a person was selected by the Committee for his intelligence and fitness as a Classleader, he was written too [sic] by the Secretary, and the names of twenty five members the nearest to his residence were given him. He had also a printed form on which he entered the names of his class, and every week he received their subscriptions and entered them under their proper heading; the sum he received every night was added up before the members present, and he was bound to give it in to the secretary every fortnight, at the Classleaders meeting. The Classleader was also provided with quarterly cards for the members, for which sixpence was demanded from each; they could pay it at once if they choose, or if more convenient, one halfpenny per week, this card admitted them to all the meetings of the union. Their class meetings were generaly held at some members house, the classleader presided and some subject of discussion or conversation was selected; sometimes selections were made from books, the works of Pain [sic], Godwin, Owen, Ensor and other radical writers were generaly prefered [sic], as well as the unstamped political periodicals of the day; and in this manner hundreds of persons were made acquainted with books and principles of which they were previously ignorant. In addition to this the discussions and conversations generated and encouraged the tallent [sic] of public speaking among the members; so usefull in a country of corruptions and abuses, where its exercise becomes a duty.
Abundant subjects for excitement and discussion were from week to week aforded [sic] to the union. Hetheringtons second prosecution, and the almost daily imprisonment of some victim for selling the unstamped continued to perpetuate the political strife; exhibiting as it did the Tory trickery of the Stamp Commissioners on the one hand, and the cowardice and perfidy of the Whigs on the other, in permitting their rivals to triumph at the expence of their own avowed principles, and striving to conciliate hollow friendship; instead of seeking to promote the progress of truth and justice. Mr Hunts return for Preston, the massacres in Ireland, the prosecution of Lovett for refusing to serve in the Militia, were subjects for congratulation or bitter invective. This union also participating most cordialy in the feelings of the revolutions of France, Belgium, Poland and others, were the first to congratulate, and the last to celebrate their victories. The first Anniversary of the French Revolution was celebrated at Copenhagen House on the 8th of Aug. 1831. The following address to the French people was agreed to and a supper, speeches, dancing and amusements concluded the evening without drunkenness or confusion. (See P[oor] M[an's] Guardian for the Address Aug. 6th 1831 for Lafayette's answer Sep. 24th.)
Near this period, the time of the throwing out of the Reform Bill by the Lords, considerable anxiety was entertained by the shopkeepers of London, and wealthy individuals, respecting the feelings and views of the Working Classes; and more especially of those belonging to this union; as they were ultra liberals in politics, and always contended that their condition could not be permanently improved; while property was made the bassis [sic] of legislation. Those people therefore foolishly believed that the union meditated an attack on their property and that they sought by some scheme to dispossess them of it, and divide it amongst themselves. Now though the leading members of the union had taken considerable pains to explain their views, nay they even went to the extent of declaring that they would risk their lives to assist the ministers to carry the Reform Bill, as will be seen from the following address to his majesty agreed to at the Rotunda the 10th of Oct. 1831. (See P. M. Guardian Oct. 22 1831.)
This was not sufficient to satisfy the timidity of those, whose wealth is the bugbear of their fears, at most of their meetings, and in those papers devoted to their interests, something was said to distrust or condemn the Union of the Working Classes. In addition to this many of the union concerned that the committee did not go far enough at this crisis, in declaring their views on all subjects, connected with their political and social rights, but thought they had overlooked their own, in their anxiety to assist others. In order therefore to make known to all parties if possible clearly their views & intentions, as well as to promote in their opinion the progress of the measures then pending in parliament—they resolved to hold a large meeting in the open air, on Nov. 7th in the space in front of White Conduit House. Lovett and Watson drew up the following declaration of principles, together with the resolutions that were to have been proposed, they also consulted Mr T. Wakley who agreed to take the Chair on the occasion. (See Declaration P. M. G. Oct. 29 1831.)
This declaration was discussed in most of their class meetings, and read at many of their public meetings, previous to the grand meeting were [sic] it was to have been solemnly ratified. Previous however to its taking place several circumstances transpired to generate a very powerful feeling in the Metropolis against it being held. One of these circumstances were [sic] the riots in Bristol and the burning of the city, which took place after the Declaration was posted—another was some very improper language used by Benbow at a meeting in the Rotunda respecting his joy at the event; which language however was strongly deprecated by the Committee and members generaly—another was the fact of their intention to attend this public meeting each provided with a constables staff. The reason for this latter arrangement originated in several members of the union having been cruely illtreated by the Police when returning with the Marylebone procession from addressing the king on the Reform Bill, and they therefore resolved to protect themselves with similar weapons to those used by the police. The newspaper press therefore taking advantage of those circumstances soon generated such a powerfull sensation among the timid by the dread prophecies of burnings plundering and devestations [sic], that the government was induced to pour Regiment after Regiment into London, to swear in hundreds of special constables, to post cautionary bills, in fact to make as many preparations as if they feared the entry of some foreign foe; instead of a meeting of a few thousands of working men, to talk of their wrongs and to pray for a remedy. Takeing [sic] into account that their object in the first place was a peacible [sic], and by them understood to be a legial [sic] one—and feeling how powerfull the public opinion was against their intended meeting; and the power and means they knew government would use to crush them—after their Committee had waited on Lord Melbourne to endeavour to convince him of their peacible intentions, they wisely resolved to put off the meeting. (See P. M. Guardian Nov. 12 1831.)
A large meeting of the union was held the following monday at the Rotunda and the Resolutions which were to have been submitted to the large meeting in front of White Conduit House were there unanimously agreed too.
The next great exitement of the members of this union was on account of the Bristol and Nottingham Special Commissions. Several public meetings were held and the following protest with 1,270 signatures obtained in a few hours was submitted by a deputation to the Secretary of State. (See Protest P. M. Guardian Jan. 28 1832.)
The 22 of March following the Ministry seeking to conciliate knaves and fanatics on the one hand as well as to feed the gullibility of the ignorant on the other put forth a proclamation for a general fast. No sooner did the members of this union hear of this farce, than they were actively engaged in asertaining [sic] how they could best show their contempt for this knavery or hypocrisy. They first thought of a public meeting on the occasion, but after consulting several eminent lawyers on the subject, they found that no exhibition of numbers could so effectually evade the laws, as by their walking peacibly through the streets of this Metropolis. They therefore resolved that a procession of the union should be held on this occasion after which they should adjourn to their classes or places of meeting and that the most able to afford it should help their poorer bretheren [sic] to feast and not fast on that day. (See P. M. Guardian March 24 1832.)
Soon after the procession Benbow, Lovett and Watson were arrested as the leaders of the procession and being bailed out, their trial took place at the sessions house Clerkenwell Green on Wednesday the 16th of May 1832. (See trial of Benbow Lovett & Watson—printed.)
Oweing [sic] to some disagreement with Benbow connected with this trial, Lovett and Watson sesceeded [sic] from the Committee and though Mr Watson ocassionaly [sic] attended their public meetings the former took no part in their proceedings since that occasion. The Public meetings of the union about this period were attended frequently by Dr Wade, Mr Hunt, Mr Lawless and ocassionaly by D. O. Conelele [sic] and other members of parliament—Duffey, Mee, Lynch, Beck, Lee, Guthrie, Preston and others took part in their proceedings. The 29th Oct. following at the request of several of the Working Classes of Birmingham a Deputation of this union was sent to form a Union of the Working classes at that place. (See P. M. G. Nov. 3 1832.)
Various were the topics discussed throughout the union about this period but none so important especialy in its consequences as was the subject of a National Convention. About the begining [sic] of April 1833 Mr Lee a young man who had recently joined the union, and was elected on the Committee, proposed the following resolution, which was publicly discussed at a meeting at the Rotunda.
That the conduct of the pretended reformed House of Commons clearly demonstrates that to look for any amendment in the political condition of the Working classes untill they possess the power [of] electing their own representatives would be little short of absolute insanity; and that this union conscious that such right will never be obtained so long as this country be cursed with a pampered Monarchy, an indolent aristocracy, and a bloated hierarchy, earnestly implore their brethren throughout the whole country to prepare themselves for a Convention of the people as the only mode by which they can devise means to extricate themselves from the grievous misrule under which they have too long and too patiently been suffering.
This resolution was discussed for three suceeding [sic] weeks, throughout the union, many were the arguments aduced [sic], but none so efficently as were urged by Messrs Lee, Mee and Petrie in calling upon them to send their own representatives to Parliament as Dan'l O Connele was sent by the men of Clare. Though the majority were evidently in favour of this project, yet a considerable number of the most intelligent were thoroughly opposed to it, nay, even in the committee it was carried by a small majority. Eventualy it was determined that a preparitary [sic] meeting should be held, which was advertized to take place on May the 13th at 2 o clock on the Calthorp [sic] Street Estate Cold Bath Fields. (See P. M. G. May 18 1833 & May 25. See also the Popay affair P. M. G. July 13 1833 & Aug. 24 1833.)
The union is now very weak in numbers & intelligence, great efforts have been made by their indefatigable secretary Mr Russell and a few others to rescussitate [sic] it but without effect, a few of the classes still hold together, and they have by the assistance of a few members of Parliament got up public meetings on great ocassions, yet only the shadow and name exists of a union, that scotched and terrified corruption, that exposed public plunderers & private peculators, and that planted the seeds of regeneration the fruits of which may be reaped by posterity.
It is my intention to give a circumstantial account of the immediate causes and the progress of the political proceedings of the working people, from the commencement of the year 1836. Proceedings in themselves very remarkable and unexampled in this or any other country, and very unlikely to terminate until great changes have taken place not only in the relative condition of the working people but in the very form of the government itself. Many of the circumstances now operating upon all classes and many more which operate upon them all together with the increase of knowledge among the masses of the people, do and will tend towards a democratical form of government, and these from time to time will call forth the exertions of the working people in large bodies, who mistaking their want of more general knowledge than they will have, for the possession of full and complete knowledge will induce them to act most unwisely and to do a vast amount of mischief, for which however the government will probably be more to blame than the people from the course they will continue to take of neglecting to adapt their conduct to circumstances and resisting innovations absurdly, until the time has gone by, matters which if adapted to the knowledge and condition of the people would be accepted with thanks, or received as boons, will be extorted by means which will be considered as forced submissions and tend to encourage demands, backed by powerful demonstrations before the nation at large will be prepared for them.
The amount of knowledge among the many is lamentably defective though its increase is certainly great. Some among the working people; a large number among themselves, but a very small number in comparison with their class; are much better informed, more rational and in all respects superior men, to any who could formerly have been found in their class.
But even these men, with few exceptions, have not yet arrived at that state when men rely upon themselves, they are still in but too many cases liable to be drawn aside from the true course and led into errors.
Many again who are neither so well informed as these men and generally not so honest are ready on every occasion when a display can be made to become leaders of large bodies and to influence still larger bodies—to make what they call demonstrations, most of them absurd and demonstrating nothing but their folly, the remainder leading to some extent to better modes of thinking in some particulars and it can hardly be doubted, that upon the whole, and notwithstanding the folly and mischief, progress is made in the inducement to a course which must lead, however slowly, to correct reasoning among multitudes who but for these demonstrations might not so soon have become reasoners, even to the small extent to which the mass of them may be led to reason.
The great body of the working people who take part in political proceedings are still open to the delusions of ill informed, and to dishonest agitators, the field of operation for whom has of late years been greatly enlarged. These ever active men, are enthusiasts as much misled, or nearly as much misled as those who follow them. The doctrines by which the people are misled are founded on what are called inherent indefeasible rights, which are made to include whatever particular object may be aimed at. By notions of equality in respect to property, and by the doctrine promulgated by Robert Owen now known under the name of Socialism. The most mischievous nonsense propagated is that which pretends, to assure the deluded people that poverty will by the adoption of the proposed measure be wholly removed, and that the time is all but at hand when these predictions will be accomplished. These to them mischievous notions called into actions as they had been for several years past, led them to the conclusion that they could associate nearly the whole of the working class in one great confederation which in a short time would gain possession of all the power and property of the nation, and compel the submission of all to their rule; never for an instant doubting that their rule would be the most wise and beneficent that could be imagined; be in fact, a millineum [sic], in which peace plenty and happiness would abound.
This infatuation which governed nearly the whole of the men who in any sense of the word could be designated politicians of the working class and many others who were not of their own class, but of almost every other class, tradesmen, manufactures [sic], gentlemen, clergymen and professional men were as it will be seen called into co-operation with the working men, and either lead [sic] or supported their schemes with zeal which though much abated in intensity will never be abandoned, but as repeated false steps and their consequent disappointments may teach them wisdom. As the best men in the working class proceed in their attainment of knowledge, they will cease to enforce their mistaken notions, and this will be called abandoning their caste by those who remain unenlightened, and these men, and such other men as have power over multitudes of other men and have sinister objects to accomplish will misinterpret to the many the actions and opinions of those who may have become more enlightened, and will represent them as enemies of the people whom they would be the best qualified and best disposed to serve, the people will continue to be misled, and will look upon their best friends as their worst enemies, and the more, these their friends may attempt to justify themselves and to defend themselves against absurd and false imputations the firmer will be the conviction of the misled ill judging multitude that they are enemies to be shunned. Progress in the capability of thinking more justly will however increase, various circumstances will occur tending to this result. Some of the leaders who have impugned their fellows will be convinced that they have decided absurdly and have acted accordingly and these will from time to time fall into the ranks of those who have been rejected by the people, will become a very considerable number and will slowly but certainly increase their influence. In the mean time many of the incorrigible leaders, and large numbers of those of their followers who are unteachable will be wearied out with continual and rapidly occurring disappointments and will draw off, to be replaced by better men, and notwithstand[ing] the times of inactivity and despair which will occasionally occur the progress of actual improvement in right thinking will go on with increased velocity.
Great allowance should be made for men who have never been taught to reason on causes and consequences. The principal cause of action in such men is the hope of being able to better their condition by increasing their real wages and securing constant employment. It is this hope which sustains vast numbers and prevents them from becoming altogether reckless, as some among them in whom this hope is extinguished are continually becoming. Others and these by far the largest number having toiled on for years will sink into that state when by ordinary means all chance of bettering their condition by increase of wages will continue their toil their energies being concentrated, so far as regards their employment in preventing the decrease of wages. To men circumstanced as these two descriptions are the hope of benefit from political associations is very alluring, and the only matter for surprise is that they do not proceed with more of outrage, and offence in various ways than those about to be noticed.
A great mass of our unskilled and but little skilled labourers among whom are the hand loom weavers, and a very considerable number of our skilled labourers are in poverty, if not in actual misery. A large portion of them have been in a state of poverty and great privation all their lives, they are neither ignorant of their condition nor reconciled to it, they live amongst others who are better off than themselves, with whom they compare themselves and they cannot understand why there should be so great a difference, why others who work no more, or fewer hours than themselves at employments not requiring more actual exertion and in many cases occupying fewer hours in the day should be better paid than they are, and they come to the conclusion that the difference is solely caused by oppression. Oppression of bad laws and aviricious [sic] employers. To escape from this state is with them of paramount importance, among a vast multitude of these people, not a day, scarcely an hour can be said to pass without some circumstance, some matter exciting reflection occurring to remind them of their condition which notwithstanding they have been poor and distressed from their infancy and however much they may at times be cheerful, they scarcely ever cease, and never for a long period cease to feel and to acknowledge to themselves with deep sensations of anguish their deplorable condition. To men thus circumstanced, any, the most absurd scheme which promises relief is eagerly seized and earnestly adhered to until long after it has failed, and is even then reluctantly given up, and is always accounted for by something having supposed to have happened which prevented the good the scheme held out from having been accomplished, and thus they remain as they were having learned nothing, ready to be again deluded by some other scheme, until they hopelessly abandon every effort either to serve themselves or others.
This state of delusion, of disappointment and despair will continue until even this poor class shall be rationally educated, not merely taught to read and write badly, but to use their intellectual faculties, made clearly to understand the meaning of the word Reasoning, and to Reason with something approaching to accuracy on the circumstances in which they are placed, their causes and consequences, the doctrine of Wages, Profit, Rent of Land, and Population, and the application of each to their own as well as to the condition of other persons. Difficult as it may seem to teach these things there is no real difficulty, each admits, of short and clear and conclusive definitions the grounds of which may be easily laid and as the children of the poor grow they may easily be taught to comprehend them thoroughly.
Every rational, well disposed man who for a short time only, will observe the mode and the extent of the reasoning such as it is, of ininstructed [sic], ill paid working people, will soon be satisfied, that in their state of toil and trouble and privation and all but hopelessness to which but too many of them are driven, that it is unjust to condemn them for easily giving credence to the delusions which from time to time are inculcated by men who are by them supposed to understand what they talk about, and especially as among them are the Attwoods—Muntz's [sic]—Fielden's Wakleys, and others, who frequently take advantage of circumstances to lead and mislead them most egregiously, who seriously point out remedies and at other times assure them that the nostrums they prescribe or administer to them will work their salvation, by causing plenty of work at all times, and double their wages.
Delusions the result of superficial and defective reasoning in men who ought to know better and whose position should make them careful neither to propose nor to support measures which may be injurious to the working people whom they would willingly serve. Of fluent men who go about preaching & lecturing without understanding the subjects they talk about; of others well meaning men who are led by their feelings, and men who are more rogues than fools who are careless of consequences, willing to take the risk of being prosecuted, because it gives them importance, enables them to live upon their fellows and saves them from the much more disgraceable alternative of working for their living at employments they dislike, will one and all continue to produce considerable effect, and consequently continue to produce undesirable and mischievous results.
Proceedings analagous [sic] to those which have been noticed will continue sometimes with more, sometimes with less effect, will be more or less extensive, and never will wholly subside. The working people will never more desist from attempts to obtain the right of voting for members to represent the people in the commons house of parliament. No law can wholly prevent them, can wholly put them down, and it may be concluded as certain that laws made for this purpose would but increase the difficulty with the government which should proceed in this way. They would inevitable [sic] induce the people to proceed in much more reprehensible ways than they would otherwise adopt.
Proceed how they may some present evil will generally result from the movements of the people, and these will be more numerous and more extensive as wise measures of caution and of amelioration are neglected, or as more stringent laws may unwisely be made. It may therefore be rationally concluded, that the irritation the movements of the people will help to engender, coupled with the apprehension of loss of property, of power and patronage which the aristocracy in church and state cannot but entertain, and the offence they will give to the pride and importance which their long domination has consolidated, and to a considerable extent have blinded them will continue to prevent them seeing the consequences of their own actions, and be a bar to such conduct as might tend to put the evil day to a great distance. Many acts will therefore be done as well by the aristocracy as by the people to the great injury of both and impede the reconciliation of all classes with one another which must preceed any thing worthy the name of good government in this country.
The result is certain. The tendency towards democracy will increase continually. Its rate of increase will be constantly augmented even among those who are incapable as vast numbers are of perceiving the increase, visible as it even now is in the demeanour and language of all men who do not really compose the aristocracy, and with very few exceptions in nearly all if not indeed to some extent in every one of them. Such men as supported the long administration of Mr Pitt no longer exist, and cannot be replaced. However slow has been the change in some instances, still there is not one left who is now the man he would have been in the period from 1793 to 1803. If they were wise they would change still more rapidly than they are likely to do, would carefully observe the march of opinions and events and profit by them for the good of all themselves included, however much they might dislike to see their power and all which to them as a privileged body they most value slowly but continuously sliding from under them. This is not however to be expected from such a body and the people will therefore obtain their emancipation at much greater cost than they would otherwise have to submit to and the aristocracy as the result of their pride and obstinacy will probably be exterminated.
The hope remains but it is a faint one that this may not be the case, but that the whole body of the people exclusive of the aristocracy will as the time approaches when the government must become wholly representative be wise enough to keep their position without inflicting injury on any which can be by any means avoided, and thus set an example to the world of a great nation passing from an aristocratic domination to a wholly democratic government without civil war and bloodshed.
83. [Add. Ms. 35154, S. 208-22. Dr J. R. Black's account of his attempts to form a society of working men in London, which led eventually to the London Working Men's Association. (Place used this account in writing part of his narrative history of working men's associations, Add. Ms. 27819, ff. 21-7.)]
About the middle of June 1834 Black sought Roland Detrosier and proposed to him a plan for the political organization of the working classes. He was slow in comprehending it. He admitted at once that nothing would be done for the working classes till they did something for themselves, but he could not at first see how the mere union of a few intelligent working men in political associations could effect a general organization of their class & lift them up in their own estimation & in that of the other classes of society. Eventually he understood the plan, seemed to enter warmly into it, and promised to set it going, first in London and as soon as one association could be well trained there, then in the other large towns. After waiting some weeks without any movement on the part of Detrosier, Black asked him to give him the names and addresses of some of the most intelligent & active working men in London that he might apply to them himself. Detrosier sent him to Lovett, saying that he was an excellent man & could introduce me to others. Black went to Lovett in Greville Street, Hatton Garden, but his manner was so cold and guarded that he did not open his business to him. He then sought J. D. Styles, as one of the most active & intelligent working men in London, but he failed for some time in finding him & when he did, Mr Styles was from peculiar circumstances at the time wholly unable to enter into the matter. He next went to John Gast, of whom he had heard through a working man in a conversation held between them in an archway in the Old Jewry where they had both stopt [sic] out of a hard shower of rain. Gast did not hope much from working men's associations, but he thought some good could be done with them & he was therefore willing to aid in forming one in London. He was to see some of his friends & speak to them upon the subject & if they thought well of it, Black was to meet them. Gast however failed in getting any one to see the thing as he did, and when Black saw him Gast was less than ever sanguine as to the success of the plan.
About this time or a little after in August Black made the acquaintance of Francis Place & they very soon became intimate friends, spending a great deal of time together & talking in the most unreserved & confidential manner. To Mr Place he presented his plan of Political Associations of Working men, & he at once saw through the whole matter & in the most encouraging manner urged him to go on with it. From this time they worked together in carrying it out. Many of the most intelligent working men were in the habit of visiting Mr Place on Sundays for the purpose of asking his advice about private affairs or those of their Clubs & Trade Societies, Black regularly attended every Sunday & Mr Place & he let no opertunity [sic] slip of holding such conversations with them as would enable them to discover fit men as to ability, zeal, & leisure for their purpose. At last they determined to start an agitation for the Repeal of the Stamp Duty upon Newspapers, to give Black an opertunity of mixing himself actively with working men & others, and thus whilst promoting a general good enabling him to gather round him a sufficient number of proper men to start a London Association. This was done.
They got an office in Leicester Square in April 1835 where Black worked night & day at the Stamp Repealing Agitation & became acquainted with numbers of active working men. In the winter they removed the office to Tavistock Street & continued their exertions to obtain the repeal of the Stamp Duty. By this time many of the most intelligent & active of the working men in London were around Black, but finding their political views extremely crude, he formed classes ostensibly for teaching them Grammar, French, Mathematics etc. but while this was going on he selected & inoculated many of them with the principle of his plan. Here he & Mr Place got up the Committee for obtaining subscriptions for the relief of Hetherington & Cleave, on which committee were half working men, & half middle class men. During the operations of this committee, Black formed an association composed exclusively of working men for the Repeal of the Stamp Duty, which he and Mr Place thought a good preparation for their main design in that direction. This association issued an address, which was published in the Radical Newspaper & in all the unstamped newspapers, with the names & occupations of the members. After this Black broached the main plan in separate conversations to these & a few other working men, and when they had all thus agreed to it, he called them together, the plan was formally proposed, & they resolved to form themselves into a Working men's Association. The members met Black on Thursday night's [sic] & Sunday mornings to discuss & agree upon the rules. When every thing was nearly arranged, the 'Universal Suffrage Club' was started by some other persons, and a deputation from the committee of that Club was sent to the infant Working men's Association, inviting its members to join the Club & give up their plan. Great efforts were made thus to break up the Association, & much anger was felt & expressed by some of the more active promoters of the Club at their failure in doing so. In this affair, William Lovett, who was acting as secretary of the Association, Rob't Hartwell & Black, for their determined resistance to the Clubites, were, the especial objects of animadversion for some considerable time. For the want of means Black was obliged a short time after this to give up the political office in Tavistock Street, and the Association not being able to find a suitable place of meeting which they could afford to hire, William Lovett gave it free of all charge a room for its meetings in his own house in Greville Street.
84. [Add. Ms. 27827, f. 32. The following is the address mentioned in the previous document, as it was published in the newspapers. At the top of this published copy Place has written, 'Written by J. Roberts Black M.D. of Kentucky, May 1836'.]
The Working Men of Great Britain look around them, and discover that they live in the richest country on earth; yet a greater proportion of themselves barely exist, and trifling accidents in their affairs may doom them to irretrievable pauperism, or to the wards of a loathsome prison.
The working men of Great Britain are conscious that they live in the freest country on earth, with but one exception; yet they themselves are hardly above the condition of slaves. Unrepresented by the law-making power, their wants and their interests are wholly at the mercy of their rulers. Shut out of the courts of law as jurymen, and by the enormous expense of what is called justice, they are seldom seen in them, except when dragged there to be convicted for breaking statutes whose existence they were not permitted previously to know.
The working men of Great Britain live in a country remarkable for the extensive and rapid circulation of intelligence and information; yet they, themselves, are positively, and almost in express terms, denied any participation whatever in the benefits of the readiest, the commonest, the chief vehicle of knowledge—the newspaper.
Under such painful and oppressive circumstances, the working men of this country hailed with joy the first agitation for procuring a cheap and unshackled press; for, from it they hope for advancement in their knowledge, for improvement in their morals for increased sympathy of the other classes of society, for a share in the formation of public opinion, and through these, for all such ameliorations of their condition as would be consistent with the happiness of the community at large.
But now, after years of agitation, after sending into Parliament petitions upon petitions, after repeated promises held forth by ministers, and after the strongest assurances from the middle classes that they would make common cause with the working classes, till a perfectly free press should be obtained—after all this, what is the position of affairs on this subject? Simply this: the stamp duty is to be reduced to a point which will permit newspapers to circulate as freely among the middle classes, as if the press were actually free; while so much of the stamp-duty is to be retained, and such an inquisitorial law is to be enacted, in addition to all those now in force, as shall utterly prohibit the circulation of newspapers among the working classes. Or to express the same thing, by stating the proposition of the present ministry, a minimum stamp-duty of one penny is to be retained, by which, according to the acknowledgement of ministers themselves, no such newspapers as we now have can be legally sold for less than fourpence, a price working men cannot pay; while any peace officer or stamp officer is to be authorised to seize any person having an unstamped newspaper in their possession, and a single justice of the peace may commit him to prison for six calendar months, and not less than one month, unless a penalty of £20 for each paper be paid. The conviction to be summary, and without appeal! And let it be remembered, as of a piece with this inquisitorial proposition, that the ministry lately procured an Act of Parliament, taking away all right of private citizens to lay informations for a violation of the stamp laws, and restricting this right solely to officers of the Government; so that the stamp laws now actually stand as so much arbitrary power for official dictation. Yes, incredible as it may seem when simply stated, these laws are wholly in official hands, to be dealt out according to their particular views; and, unfortunately for us, their particular views, are in direct hostility to the labouring classes, as is but too clearly shown by the fact, that of great variety of publications, equally in violation of the stamp laws, ministers have selected those, and those only, to base their prosecutions upon, which contain 'news and information' for working men.
Here, is a minimum stamp-duty of a penny, keeping up the price of legal newspapers to fourpence; with a multiplicity of obscure laws relating to newspaper stamps, all recognised in the new Consolidated Bill; with a proposed additional act of extensive and inquisitorial powers; with the right of resorting to these laws, taken from the community, and put solely into official hands; and with the demonstrated hostility of our rulers against our further improvement—the true position of working men is too painfully evident.
Now, as working men, we appeal to every honest heart amongst our fellow citizens, whose approbation we covet, if it is just to mark out our class for so cruel an exclusion from the countless benefits and peculiarly inestimable gratification of possessing newspapers? We appeal to every candid man in either the aristocratic or middle classes to say, if his particular class were thus, alone excluded, by inquisitorial and arbitrary laws, from reading newspapers at home, whether that class would tamely submit to such exclusion? And yet to no class does the reading of their own newspapers bring greater benefits, or higher enjoyment, than to the working classes—to no other class is the possession of newspapers so important— by no other class is this privilege so dearly prized. Let it not be expected then, that we will tamely submit to the uncalled for, and cruel oppression of being excluded from all participation in the press of our country; and above all at this moment too, when mainly by our co-operative exertions the press is to be thrown open to the middle classes;—many of whom seem but too much disposed to accept their bribe and to desert our cause, leaving us to the unscrupulous opposition of offended power. But we repeat, let it not be expected that working men will repose in silence and inaction under this bitterest oppression.
We know what is thought of us by the other classes of society, what is often said of us even by those who are really our friends,—that we have too little intelligence to perceive rightly our own interests—too little mutual confidence to become united—too few habits of temperance and providence to exercise moral courage—and too much subserviency to other classes to hold up our heads as men. We who now form this Association know otherwise, and we possess, it must be allowed by those who are acquainted with us, somewhat ample means of coming to correct conclusions with respect to our own class; but we hope to convince both our enemies and our friends in the other classes of society, that the few last years have not past [sic] in vain, as regards the intelligence and morals of working men; and that the unstamped press, whatever the other classes of society may have thought of it, has not been more busy than profitable among that portion of the people who demanded and therefore purchased its 'millions of sheets a year'.
Henry Ainsworth, 114, Bunhill-row
E. H. Baker, 22, Eagle-street, Red Lion-square
Charles Cole, 10, Fleur-de-lis-court, Norton Folgate
John Cray, 3, Seamore-place, Camden Town
Richard Cray, 16, High-street, Bow
John Duce, 9, Wilmot-street, Bethnal-green-road
John Farrell, 53, Heath-street, Commercial-road, East
J. Fox, 7, Scott-street
John Gast, 14, Lucas-street, Rotherhithe
G. Glashan, 6, George-street, Tower-hill
Jonathan Gray, 12, Wilmot-square, Bethnal-green-road
R. Hartwell, 35, Brooke-street, Lambeth
G. Hendley, 18, Putney-street, Whiteconduit Fields
William Kitran, 1, Princess-street, Spitalfields
William Lovett, 19, Greville-street, Hatton Garden
James Martin, 14, Tavistock-street, Covent Garden
D. M'Donnell, 25, College-street, West, Camden Town
T. Medway, Winchester-street, Bethnal-green
R. Moore, 20, Hyde-street, Bloomsbury
Anthony Morton, 73, Rahere-street, Goswell-road
R. Potts, 9, Crescent-street, Euston-square
Robert Raven, 3, Hanover-crescent, Milton-street
James Roberts, 23, Robert-street, Hampstead-road
J. Robinson, Tower-street, Tower Hamlets
John Rogers, 8, Newcastle-street, Strand
A. Sparks, 26, Noble-street, Willington-square
J. D. Styles, 7. Belvidere-road, Lambeth
J. Sturges, 8, Upper-street, St. Martin's-lane
J. Thomson, Blacksmith's Arms, Brook-street, Ratcliff
My friend Dr Black has told me of your intention to form societies in various places to consist of working men for the purpose of mutual instruction and that you are coming to converse with me upon the subject.
Desirous as I have always been to facilitate every project likely to promote the well being of the working people I was much pleased on being informed of your intention, and therefore to save your time and prevent any misunderstanding I now send you some particulars and advice.
In the year 1795 I was one of 15 working men, all of us members of the London Corresponding Society, who met every sunday evening at an appointed hour, at one or other of our rooms, at these meetings each one of us in turn was chairman, and each of us in turn read a small portion of some useful book, and then each was requested to make his observations thereon. As many as pleased did so. Then another small portion was read and they who had not spoken were requested to make such observation as occurred to them. If any remained who had not spoken another portion was read and it was considered a point of honor that they who had hitherto been silent should speak. This course of discipline embarrassed most of us, but it compelled every one to think more correctly than we had been accustomed to do, and it either engendered or increased the desire and habit of investigation. It made us all eager to procure information on many subjects, it induced us to purchase books for our private use with such money as we could save, and which some of us had spent much less usefully, with me it laid the foundation of my library. It stimulated us all to learn many useful things, and to be much more precise in every way than we had been. Two, the most useful of all possible results were the consequence, we obtained correct notions on several important subjects and information on others which few of us had ever before contemplated. These inquiries increased our notions of our own individual respectability and helped to put every one of us in the way to become a master in his particular trade, and every one of us succeeded in permanently bettering his condition in life. See here an example, than which nothing ought to be more cheering to a working man, none which can to a really respectable working man be more consoling.
I strongly advise you and your friends to adopt a somewhat similar course, but to some extent improved course. Thus, to meet together either at one anothers rooms or in some common room where no expense beyond candles and perhaps fire will be incurred. If only half a dozen meet it will be sufficient as others will soon join you. Each man to pay 1/- on joining and 1/- a quarter to purchase books, and one penny at each meeting he attends, if necessary, for candles etc. You may go on adding to your number until it amounts to about 25, then make an offset of from 5 to 10 as may be most convenient, to those members who live at a distance but in the same direction, thus multiplying your associations continually, but having cognizance of each others meetings and occasionally holding a general meeting of all the members. By proceeding in this way you will collect together the best disposed and best informed men in the several trades in London and great indeed will be the benefit of your proceedings.
It is of much more importance that a small number of the best informed and most respectable men should meet in the first instance than a large number of men less qualified to promote the objects you have in view.
The best book I know of for the use of such meetings is 'Godwins enquiry concerning political justice and its influence on morals and happiness'. It will be advisable to purchase a copy of that work, and when your numbers will enable you to purchase another copy, to cut them up, and sew such chapters as may be selected in very strong brown paper covers. When you have two copies two members may read the same chapter at the same time, and by allowing two days to each to read those same chapters each will read it in the course of a fortnight and by reading one chapter under another, you can so arrange it that the chapter which shall have been read by each at his home could be read aloud again at the sunday evening meeting for discussion.
Several of the chapters which are most important are short and though they require some serious thinking do not present greater difficulties than ordinary men may overcome, if not completely at first, yet certainly by discussion and subsequent reading, and this is the great advantage of such institutions as we are now considering. The chapters I recommend to be first read are
Here are 8 subjects every one of them of great importance and these with the probable adjournments of some of the discussions may serve for a quarter of a year, by which time many of the members will be competent to select as many other chapters as may be advisable for the purpose, and when these have been read and discussed as recommended, they may be again read and discussed with almost infinite advantage.
At the commencement of vol. 1 is a summary of principles, 5 pages, these may be advantageously read but not for discussion until all the selected chapters have been discussed, since without the knowledge which would be thus acquired it would be waste of time to discuss the summary.
There is an invaluable little work on the wages of labour which might be read and discussed in the same way on alternate sunday evenings or much more advantageously on the evening of some week day, as the general and particular subjects would be thus taught together. I will ascertain if any of the small treatises can be procured. Reading these works need not prevent the learning of any art or science since even a third evening in every week could not be spent in any way so advantageously. How great an amount of real learning, how much truly valuable information may be obtained by working men is known to scarcely any body, and no one can appreciate the benefits of knowledge of any kind until he has obtained it. The rules may be very simple. 1 Each man to pay 1/- per quarter in advance. 2 No eating drinking or smoaking [sic] to be allowed at any meeting. 3 Any member the least disguised by liquor to be at once expelled the meeting. 4 When there are 25 members, a certain number to form a new division. 5 One member in each division to be Treasurer and secretary. 6 Regular weekly communications with every division either in writing or by meeting of the secretaries. 7 The secretaries to report when necessary to their divisions