London Radicalism 1830-1843 A Selection of the Papers of Francis Place. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1970.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by London Record Society. All rights reserved.
Published in June 1836 by the men who contend that all the produce of the earth and of manufactures and every thing else belongs to those by whose labour they are produced and to none else—They as they maintain being productive labourers all other being consumers merely.
[Newspaper cutting.] At a General Meeting of the Central Committee of the Metropolitan Radical Unions, held at the True Sun Office, on Friday, the 10th June, 1836, for the purpose of founding a Working-Man's Club. It was resolved unanimously, that the following prospectus of the Club be published in the True Sun, Radical, and unstamped newspapers:—Plan for establishing a Working-Man's Club. 1 Name. That the Club be called 'The Universal Suffrage Club'. 2 The objects. To elevate the moral, intellectual, and political character of the Working Classes; to afford them more opportunities for friendly intercourse with each other; and for forming a more substantial compact between them; and such men of learning, and political and moral integrity, as are desirous of making common cause with their less affluent brethren for placing happiness within the reach of all;—to soften, and eventually to subdue, the asperity of the aristocracy and middle classes towards the working portion of the people;—to prove to all their enemies the fitness of the working classes to manage their own affairs, both locally and nationally;—to maintain a powerful combination of talented and virtuous men, devoted to the public welfare, around whom the great bulk of the people may at all times rally in promoting all useful and important changes, instead of continuing to be but the instrument of one faction for the suppression of another, under pretence of reform, which has only been attended with additional injury and new insults to the people;—and finally, to establish perfect equality in the making and administration of the laws, as the only guarantee for securing to industry and real merit their just reward, and of ensuring peace and plenty, universal security and happiness. 3 The means. Are to raise a fund by donations from friends, and by the entrance-fees and subscriptions of members. 4 Application of funds. As soon as the funds will allow, a Club House shall be established, with suitable offices for conducting its various departments in a manner superior to any accommodation which the working man now has. 5 Advantages. The members to have free access at all hours—all kinds of information from newspapers, and the various periodical works of art and science—a library to be opened for the members as soon as possible—the best accommodation for supplying members with all kinds of refreshments of the best quality at the cheapest rate. 6 Conditions. 1 It is expected that every man joining this Association shall be favourable to universal suffrage. 2 The entrance fee shall be five shillings, and the annual subscriptions shall be one pound, payable quarterly. 3 When 500 persons shall have paid the entrance money, the Club shall be considered founded; a meeting of members shall then be convened, for the purpose of electing, by ballot, officers and a committee to complete the arrangements upon the plan here laid down, and to draw up rules of management. 4 That after the formation of the Club, every candidate for admission shall be subject to the ballot—three black balls in ten to exclude. Resolved—That, till the formation of the Club, when the officers will be elected by ballot, the undernamed members of the Central Committee shall hold the offices set opposite their respective names provisionally:—Feargus O'Connor, Treasurer John Russell, Secretary. Resolved—That the Central Committee do continue to use all its energies in the formation of the Universal Suffrage Club, with power to add to their number. Resolved—That an Address to the Working Men of the Nation be prepared by the Central Committee at its next meeting. Every information will be given, and cards issued at the following places:— Mr Hetherington's, Strand; Mr Cleave's, Shoe-lane; Mr Watson's, City-road; Mr Lovett's Coffeehouse, Greville-street, Hatton-garden; Mr Beaumont's, Radical Office, Strand; Mr Savage's, Mechanic's Institution, Circus-street, New-road, Marylebone. Communications to be addressed, post paid, to the Secretary, 23, Princes-street, Portman-market.
The reduction of the Stamp duty on Newspapers was about to be enacted and the members of the working mens association had turned their attention to the formation of a political association, the matter was discussed, and was much impeded by Beaumont but they at length proceeded as the following extracts from their minute book will show. . . .
6 June 1836 'At a meeting of a few friends assembled at 14 Tavistock Street Covent Garden, William Lovett brought forward a rough sketch of a prospectus for the Working Mens Association. It was subsequently ordered to be printed for further discussion'.
At the next meeting 16 June Mr R. Moore in the Chair the prospectus was adopted; and a provisional committee of the following persons viz Hartwell, Hetherington, Lovett, Hoare, Morton, Baker, Glashan, Rogers and Sturges were appointed to draw up rules and regulations for the Association.
[Place did not include in his narrative the printed address which accompanied the rules, and the following is taken from a printed version in Add. Ms. 27835, ff. 247-50.] Address and Rules of the Working Men's Association, for benefiting politically, socially, and morally, the useful classes.
Address (fn. 1)
Fellow Labourers in the Pursuit of Knowledge and Liberty.—We are anxious to express our grateful acknowledgements thus publicly, to those associations who have addressed us in the spirit of fraternity, and especially to those individuals who have so kindly assisted our missionaries in their exertions to form other associations.
It is a pleasing evidence of the progressive knowledge of those great principles of democracy, which we are contending for, to find kindred minds prepared to appreciate, and noble hearts seeking their practical development in the remotest parts of the kingdom.
But we would respectfully caution our brethren in other societies, strictly to adhere to a judicious selection of their members; on this, more than on any other of their exertions, harmony and success will depend. Let us, friends, seek to make the principles of democracy as respectable in practice as they are just in theory, by excluding the drunken and immoral from our ranks; and in uniting in close compact with the honest, sober, moral, and thinking portion of our brethren.
Doubtless, by such selections, our numbers, in many instances, will be few compared with the vicious many; but these few will be more efficient for the political and social emancipation of mankind than an indiscriminate union of thousands, where the veteran drunkard contaminates by his example, and the profligate railer at abuses saps, by his private conduct, the cause he has espoused.
In forming Working Men's Associations, we seek not a mere exhibition of numbers; unless, indeed, they possess the attributes and character of men; and little worthy of the name are those who have no aspirations beyond mere sensual enjoyments—who, forgetful of their duties as fathers, husbands, and brothers, muddle their understandings and drown their intellect amid the drunken revelry of the pot-house—whose profligacy makes them the ready tools and victims of corruption, or slaves of unprincipled governors, who connive at their folly, and smile while they forge for themselves the fetters of liberty by their love of drink.
We doubt not, that the excessive toil and misery to which the sons of labour are subject, in the absence of that knowledge and mental recreation which all just governments should seek to diffuse, are mainly instrumental in generating that intemperance, the debasing influence of which we perceive and deplore. But, friends, though we possess not the political power to begin our reformation at the source of the evil, we cannot doubt the efficacy of our exertions to check by precept and example this politically-debasing, soul-subduing vice.
Fellow-countrymen, when we contend for an equality of political rights, it is not in order to lop off an unjust tax or useless pension, or to get a transfer of wealth, power, or influence for a party; but to be able to probe our social evils to their source, and to apply effective remedies to prevent, instead of unjust laws to punish. We shall meet with obstacles, disappoint ments, and it may be with persecutions, in our pursuit; but, with your united exertions and perseverance, we must and will succeed.
And if the teachers of temperance and preachers of morality would unite like us, and direct their attention to the source of the evil, instead of nibbling at the effects and seldom speaking of the cause; then, indeed, instead of splendid palaces of intemperance daily erected, as if in mockery of their exertions—built on the ruins of happy homes, despairing minds, and sickened hearts—we should soon have a sober, honest, and reflecting people.
In the pursuit, therefore, of our righteous object, it will be necessary to be prudent in our choice of members; we should also avoid by every possible means holding our meetings at public houses; habits and associations are too often formed at those places which mar the domestic happiness, and destroy the political usefulness of millions. Let us, then, in the absence of means to hire a better place of meeting, meet at each other's houses. Let us be punctual in our attendance, as best contributing to our union and improvement; and, as an essential requisite, seek to obtain a select library of books, choosing those at first which will best inform us of our political and social rights. Let us blend, as far as our means will enable us, study with recreation, and share in any rational amusement (unassociated with the means of intoxication) calculated to soothe our anxieties and alleviate our toils.
And, as our object is universal, so (consistent with justice) ought to be our means to compass it; and we know not of any means more efficient, than to enlist the sympathies and quicken the intellects of our wives and children to a knowledge of their rights and duties;—for, as, in the absence of knowledge, they are the most formidable obstacles to a man's patriotic exertions, so when imbued with it they will prove his greatest auxiliaries. Read, therefore; talk, and politically and morally instruct your wives and children; let them, as far as possible, share in your pleasures, as they must in your cares; and they will soon learn to appreciate your exertions, and be inspired with your own feelings against the enemies of their country. Thus instructed, your wives will spurn, instead of prompting you to accept, the base election bribe—your sons will scorn to wear the livery of tyrants—and your daughters be doubly fortified against the thousand ills to which the children of poverty are exposed.
Who can foretell the great political and social advantages that must accrue from the wide extension of societies of this description acting up to their principles? Imagine the honest, sober, and reflecting portion of every town and village in the kingdom linked together as a band of brothers,— honestly resolved to investigate all subjects connected with their interests, and to prepare their minds to combat with the errors and enemies of society—setting an example of propriety to their neighbours, and enjoying even in poverty a happy home. And, in proportion as home is made pleasant, by a cheerful and intelligent partner, by dutiful children, and by means of comfort their knowledge has enabled them to snatch from the ale-house, so are the bitters of life sweetened with happiness.
Think you a corrupt Government could perpetuate its exclusive and demoralizing influence amid a people thus united and instructed? Could a vicious aristocracy find its servile slaves to render homage to idleness and idolatry to the wealth too often fraudently [sic] exacted from industry? Could the present gambling influences of money perpetuate the slavery of the millions, for the gains or dissipation of the few? Could corruption sit in the judgment seat—empty-headed importance in the senate-house— money-getting hypocrisy in the pulpit—and debauchery, fanaticism, poverty, and crime stalk triumphantly through the land,—if the millions were educated in a knowledge of their rights?
No, no, friends; and hence the efforts of the exclusive few to keep the people ignorant and divided. Be ours the task then to unite and instruct them; for, be assured, the good that is to be must be begun by ourselves. And is it not a task worthy of every generous mind, to endeavour to ameliorate the condition of humanity?
It has been said by some that our objects are exclusive, seeing we wish to confine our associations to working men. We reply, that judging from experience and appearances, the political and social regeneration of the working classes must be begun by themselves; and, therefore, they should not admit any preponderating influence of wealth or title to swerve them from their duty. By the laws of our Association all classes and conditions of men, whose character will stand the test of investigation, may be admitted to render us all the possible good they can desire—we only seek to prevent them from doing us evil. If they desire to impart to us their superior knowledge and advice, our laws permit them to do so on terms of perfect equality; but if they desire to rule and govern for their selfish interests, our rules oppose their domination. Let not however the men of wealth imagine that we have any ulterior designs inimical to their rights, or views opposed to the peace and harmony of society.—On the contrary, we seek to render property more secure; life more sacred; and to preserve inviolate every institution that can be made to contribute to the happiness of man. We only seek that share in the institutions and government of our country which our industry and usefulness justly merit. That the working millions may be induced to perceive their just interests and form themselves into Working Men's Associations,—and that those already enrolled may be urged by a sense of duty to their families and their country to preserve in their progress—is the ardent wish of the members of the London Working Men's Association.
Among the causes that most contribute to the perpetuation of abuses and corruptions in every department of the state, and the indifference manifested toward the interests of the millions, none have been more pregnant with evil than the divisions and dissensions among the working classes themselves.
The great variety and clashing of opinions on all important subjects, political and social—the contradictory and deficient evidence relating to the true condition of the labourer—the conflicting means suggested to remedy what each conceives to be the paramount evil—together with the bickerings and trifling of the most honest and influential amongst them— have long been subjects of regret and causes of vexatious disappointment.
Being convinced, then, that no reflecting and philanthropic mind can witness those scenes of misery that everywhere press upon his notice,—can read of the thousand wretched forms under which the demon of poverty tortures the millions, and at the same time reflect on the ample means wasted on folly and lavished on idleness—means sufficient to impart happiness to all, if wisely directed, without resolving to inquire into the causes of those evils, and to devise, if possible, some means of remedying or alleviating them.
And if the working classes themselves do not sympathise with each other, so many of whom have felt the bitterness of extreme poverty, how can they expect those, who, from their situations in life can scarcely form a conception of it, to feel or care respecting them? If they, whose interests are so identified, do not investigate the causes of the evils that oppress them, how can they expect others to do it for them?
A few persons, therefore, belonging to and associated with the working classes, having seen much of their state and condition, and knowing much more of their wants and necessities, sincerely lamenting their apathy to their own affairs, and their still more reprehensible dependence on wealth and power for their political and social rights, have resolved to use every exertion to form an Association, with the following objects in view:—
5 To collect every kind of information appertaining to the interests of the working classes in particular, and society in general, especially statistics regarding the wages of labour, the habits and condition of the labourer, and all those causes that mainly contribute to the present state of things;
6 To meet and communicate with each other for the purpose of digesting the information acquired, and to mature such plans as they believe will conduce in practice to the well-being of the working classes;
7 To publish their views and sentiments in such form and manner as shall best serve to create a moral, reflecting, yet energetic public opinion, so as eventually to lead to a gradual improvement in the condition of the working classes, without violence or commotion;
8 To form a library of reference and useful information; to maintain a place where they can associate for mental improvement, and where their brethren from the country can meet with kindred minds actuated by one great motive—that of benefiting politically, socially, and morally, the useful classes. Though the persons forming this Association will be at all times disposed to co-operate with all those who seek to promote the happiness of the multitude, yet being convinced, from experience, that the division of interests in the various classes, in the present state of things, is too often destructive of that union of sentiment which is essential to the prosecution of any great object, that they have resolved to confine their members, as far as practicable, to the working classes. But as there are great differences of opinion as to where the line should be drawn which separates the working classes from the other portions of society, they leave to the members themselves to determine whether the candidate proposed is eligible to become a member.
Mode of Electing Members—All candidates for admission must be proposed and seconded by Members; the proposer must give in the name, residence, and occupation of the person proposed, to the Secretary, on a general meeting night. The Secretary shall then submit the same to the Committee, for inquiry respecting the moral character and fitness of the candidate; they shall report the result of their inquiries to the next subsequent meeting. The Members present shall then determine on the election of the person proposed, and resolve, by a majority of three-fourths, whether he shall be admitted or not. The election to be decided by Ballot.
Honorary Members of the Working Classes—Working men in different parts of the country may be elected Honorary Members without payment, who shall be entitled to all the privileges of the Association whenever they come to town.
Honorary Members not of the Working Classes—Persons not of the working classes, but whom the Members believe are sufficiently identified with them, may be elected Honorary Members. They shall be allowed to take part in all debates or discussions, and to attend all meetings of the Association; but not to hold any office, or take any part in the management.
Payments—Each Member shall pay the sum of one shilling per month (in advance) towards supporting the establishment. He being in arrears three months, and not making a satisfactory excuse, shall have his name erased.
Officers for Management—The business of the Association shall be conducted by a Committee of twelve, a Secretary, and Treasurer. It shall be incumbent on them to attend every business night of meeting, and keep minutes of the proceedings, and carefully perform those duties which the Association may from time to time require of them. The Treasurer shall make all purchases, and pay all bills, by a specific order of the Committee, and not otherwise; and make up a balance-sheet of receipts and expenditure every quarter, for the use of the Members. Should any of them be ill, and unable to attend, they shall send a written statement to that effect to the Association.
The twelve elected on the first Committee shall continue in office for three months; at the expiration of that period, the six lowest on the list shall vacate their seats, and six others shall be elected in their stead. At the end of every subsequent quarter, the six longest in office shall retire, whose places shall be filled up by a new election, agreeable to the following rule. The retiring Members may be re-elected.
Election of Officers—A fortnight previous to the quarterly meeting, the Secretary shall make out a list of the candidates for office from a book kept for that purpose. The list having been printed, he shall forward a copy to each Member, and also inform him of the time of election. When they are assembled for that purpose, each Member shall silently deposit his balloting-list in a box on the table, he having previously struck out the names of all except those he wishes to be chosen. Two scrutineers shall then be appointed by a show of hands, who shall examine the lists and declare the names of the persons elected, who shall commence their duties the following week.
On the Exclusion of Members—On the requisition of twenty Members who consider the conduct or character of any Member inimical to the objects of this Association, a general meeting of the Members shall be called, when all the circumstances connected with such conduct or character shall be investigated; after which, they shall determine, at once, (by ballot) whether such person shall be excluded from the Association or not.
They shall hold Public Meetings on any great occasion, when they conceive they can promote the interests of working men; but on no occasion for party purposes, or private considerations for individuals.
This address, written by a working man, is a paper of no ordinary character. It is indeed a most important production, and when taken as a whole, could not, probably, have been written by any man, unless he either was, or had himself been a working man. It inculcates sound moral principles. It recommends and enforces the necessity of acquiring knowledge, and it most ably points out the advantages which cannot fail to follow the putting its recommendations into practice.
Why it may be asked—why has it happened that the working people, who compose an immense majority of the nation, have never yet done any thing on a large scale, to advance any of their many interests? Why have they never adopted any plan to advance their own respectability? The answer is, want of union. If it be asked, why have they not been united? the answer is, the want of knowledge of their condition in relation to society. This ignorance has all along been their bane, it is still their bane. It is this which has ever made them look to others, and from time to time to rely upon those who neither understood, nor cared to understand their condition, and the consequence has all along been and ever must be disappointment, tending, as it should seem, to sour their dispositions, but not to instruct them in the great truth, that it is themselves, and themselves only, who have the means to better their condition, to increase their own respectability. It left them open to the delusion of every one who had a scheme to propose, of projectors, who having misled themselves, could only mislead others. It induced but too many of them to believe in the practicability of 'Mr. Owen's new state of society', or the proposals of others for a perpetual division of property, until none should remain to be divided. It induced them to cherish many projects, all equally impracticable in the present, and probably in any future state of society. Thus have they been led away from the consideration of every just view, of every practicable means of serving themselves, or even attending to any practicable suggestion whatever. It induced them to cherish hatred towards others, and neglect of their own most important interests; it led them to divisions among themselves, and tended to destroy whatever desire there might be in any who were able to assist, and who, but for these absurd notions and divisions, might to some extent have done them services.
The address now published, wisely avoids every subject which has a tendency to cause disputes. It points out the way by which every working man who thinks at all on the condition of the class to which he belongs, may advance his own and their interests, and it leaves the more remote question, 'What is the best state of society?' to be discussed and determined, when the working classes as a body shall be sufficiently instructed to ascertain it, and come to a just decision.
Let it be granted that some one of the many systems of the best possible government has been chosen. Call this a principle, if you will, and then, what follows? This, that the end aimed at must be obtained by practical means. No end ever was obtained in any other way, and this admirable 'Address of the Working Men's Association', shows plainly and clearly what are the first steps to be taken. To me it seems that this end can never be obtained, unless the steps, or some such steps as those recommended in the address are taken. It becomes, then, the duty, the solemn, sacred duty, of all working men, to read and thoroughly understand the matter contained in the address, and shame be upon them if they neglect to obtain the valuable information presented to them by a society of themselves, the members of which are acting as friends and brothers.
It may be asked, how are we to obtain the address? How are we to spread it among our fellows? Here is the answer. The address, together with the rules of the 'Working Men's Association,' have been reprinted by Mr. John Cleave, and sold by him at the price of One Penny. Any working man, or any one disposed to distribute the tract among working men, may have any number of copies, not less than twenty-five at a time, at the trade price. There are thousands of working men, who could sell from twenty-five to a hundred copies in a week, hundreds who could sell a larger number in half that time, and they who are desirous to do their duty in this respect, and cannot afford to purchase twenty-five copies, may club their money, become purchasers, sell as many as will repay them the pence they have advanced, and leave them some copies which they may give away. Every association of working men every trade-club throughout the nation, should purchase a large number, and induce its members to take an active part in disposing of them. If every such man did his duty in this way, the number sold would be immense, and the good done be great indeed. Here then is a test of the desire working men have to serve themselves and one another. Here is a test which will mark their feelings for their own class. It will at once show the disposition they have to advance their own interests, and if it should be demonstrated that the disposition generally exists, it will advance them in their own estimation, and tend greatly to increase their respectability in the opinion of every one else; and this alone, even if there were no further result to arise from their efforts, should be sufficient to induce them to use the most vigorous and unrelaxed efforts, to circulate this excellent tract as extensively as possible.
1st That the members of this association have no confidence in either Whig or Tory government believing both parties to be alike, the enemies of just legislation, and obstacles in the way of the establishment of peace and happiness in the country.
2nd That therefore one of the especial objects of our union shall be to instruct and caution our brethren against helping directly or indirectly to put down one of these parties and set up the other, as by so doing they will be instrumental in perpetuating their own social and political degradation.
3 That without seeking any particular form or theory of Government we nevertheless, desire to have, and we call upon our brethren to demand as a first and an essential measure, an equal voice in determining [sic] what laws shall be enacted or plans adopted for justly governing the country.
5 That with these grand objects in view we caution our fellow-men not to be diverted, nor led away by paltry questions of either policy or expediency; nor to place any confidence in men who under the guise of reformers; i Refused to repeal the rate paying clause by which the suffrage is much limited. ii Resisted the plan of voting by ballot. iii To shorten the duration of parliaments. iv Who voted for the slavery of Factory Children and spurned the application of 80,000 Hand Loom Weavers. v Who repealed the Malt tax on one night, and rescinded their own resolution the next night. vi Who hypocritically enquired into agricultural distress yet refused assistance and even to make a report thereon. vii And who, to complete the catalogue of their iniquities, passed the infamous Poor Law Bill.
6 That we are therefore ardently desirous that all minor questions shall give place to the major, equal political rights, and we now call upon our brethren to arouse from their apathy and to become active in the prosecution of this great good.
7 That we respectfully call upon the Farmers of England whose interests are identified with our own, and who like us under the present withering system are daily sacrificed to wealth and title to make common cause with us recover their just rights, and to have their state burthens reduced to their means of bearing them.
9 That we also call upon all those benevolent and ardent friends in Town and Country whose interests may be opposed to ours in the present conflicting state of things but who are nevertheless zealously contending for equal rights and laws and justice for man, to come forward and cordially to unite boldly to demand a parliament in which all interests shall be represented.
10 That we feel assured that such a combination, all obnoxious and factious rivally [sic] would soon sink into oblivion, and give place to men who having no sinister interests apart from those of the people will labour diligently and wisely, to make all the sources of this favoured country tend to promote the happiness of the whole of its people.
In the Autumn of 1836 Colonel Thompson read some lectures on free trade to the Working Mens Association. These lectures set several of the members thinking on the subject but no one became satisfied, every one still doubted. Some of them spoke to me on the subject and this induced me to propose a plan for free conversations on such matters of Political Economy as most immediately related to the working people, and in the month of december I laid the following plan before the association.
4 That no one should speak twice on any subject until every one who wished had spoken once, and no one should speak three times until every one who wished had spoken twice, and so on for any number of times.
5 That the discussion on any question should be adjourned from time to time as the members present might by a majority decide, and the debate be continued until the subject was either exhausted or the company were unwilling to have it continued.
The questions discussed were Free Trade generally, and particularly profit and wages. The Principle of Population. Wages and Population etc. These discussions, carried on as they were compelled the members, who were desirous to speak, to enquire to read and to think, while the mode of speaking seated, prevent[ed] absurd displays of oratory and was the means of preserving order and decorum, as neither applause nor censure were expressed, and these arrangements had their use in inculcating forbearance and consequently good manners.
It was very gratifying to me, as it must have been to most of the members to observe the development of intellect which the enquiries necessary to enable the speakers to address the chair and the discussions elicited. The principle of Population, and its practical applications were continued to be discussed through three sittings. They were expounded by four of the members with a precision, clearness and conclusiveness which could scarcely have been surpassed in any assembly. A gentleman well qualified to judge of the proceedings in every respect who attended one of the sittings, sent me across the table a slip of paper on which he had written. 'I never heard more sense and less nonsense spoken among so many persons in the same time, on any subject.'
Nearly all the men who attended these discussions had been Owenites, but had abandoned it in consequence of their being unable to foresee any practical result. Much good must have resulted, in some instances I know that it has. It must have induced many to enquire to an extent they never before contemplated, and to pursue studies they never before paid any attention to, and it is very probable that some of the several small associations now existing (1841) each composed of select persons, for the purpose of discussing subjects of Political Economy, have emanated from the sunday morning meetings of the Working Mens Association.
We are not met to dispute for victory but to search for truth. In searching for truth we should be open to conviction, and not at all afraid of any conclusion which the discussion may lead to however opposite that conclusion may be to the present opinion of any one of us. Unless we are thus prepared we shall only be wasting our time, in idle talk. Here however at least some among us are not in this state. Few men reason even with themselves as impartially as they ought. To do so is laborious and to most men highly disagreeable. The consequence is, that they either receive opinions upon trust or form them without taking into their considerations the whole of the circumstances, on which they are grounded. This was by far too much my own case when I was a young man, and the consequence is, that most of the opinions I then entertained have been abandoned, and others adopted: some are directly the reverse of those which I then believed were unquestionable truths. I do not think I ought to blame myself for the mistaken conclusion I then came too [sic]. I had little learning little experience and though I had read a good deal I like every thinking man at that time was placed in circumstances which were quite new. The French revolution had opened up new scenes and caused new modes of reasoning. It was not enough that a man should be a politician, it became necessary that he should be also somewhat of a philosopher and to become so it was necessary that he should make himself acquainted with many things which were not until then thought to be at all necessary to a politician. I was poor had little leisure, and consequently wanted the means of obtaining the necessary aids for information and even if I could have procured them I could not then have obtained the time necessary to make a right use of them. My views were therefore narrow and I consequently committed many errors. As my means increased both as to money & time and the oposition [sic] of clever men, I was enabled to study particular subjects attentively—to ascertain what belonged to them to bring them together and view them as a whole—: To consider certain matters called general principles and to correct my erroneous judgments. This was not only hard but at times very disagreeable labour, but I had learned to labour, and was too fearful of entertaining erroneous notions not to labour hard to procure information, and this I did cheerfully, and I hope I shall continue to do so as long as I live. I tell you this for the purpose of bespeaking you patience and indulgence, if at times I shall be found to entertain opinions directly the reverse of those entertained by some whom I am addressing. I wish you to believe that I would not utter one word which I did not believe was true, and being true calculated to promote the well being of the working men. I think it necessary to address you thus, because, unless you do sincerely believe that I seek the good of the working classes as much as any one among you I shall be talking in vain. I know well enough by experience that my position often prevents working men giving me the credit I ought to have among them. This want of confidence arises from two causes—1 suspicion of the intentions of every man who is not himself a working man—and at this I am not surprised because I know as well as any one can know the advantages that have been sought and taken of the working people. It would however be much better for working men if this suspicion could be laid aside, and that they should reason thus. We are very well able to understand the matter addressed to us, and of that we will judge without caring at all for the intention of those who may address us—we will have to do only with the arguments. If this were the determination of the working men it would be out of the power of any one to deceive them, and all injurious suspicion would cease. 2 The notion working men entertain, and constantly act upon that however much a man like myself for instance may please them, in a great number of instances, if there be one in which he displeases them they may with reason directly condemn him as their enemy and treat him as an enemy—This is a grat bow [a great blow?] not only to improvement but to that social intercourse which might tend rapidly to the advancement of knowledge. I have experienced this sort of conduct many times and shall again experience it. Working men will often believe that I am their enemy; when if I were, I must be the meanest and basest of mankind, for I must seek to do them evil for the sole gratification of enjoying the mischief, and that only, since personally I can have nothing of what is usually termed 'interest' either in doing them good or evil.
May I hope then that among you who are some of the most enlightened of the working people my arguments, alone and not my intentions may be the subject for your consideration. It has long been my practice to act thus; I care nothing at all what a mans intentions are, I examine his arguments and if I am convinced they are good I admire them; if they are bad, I reject them; in this way I have learned, if not as much from enemies as from friends, I have yet certainly gained much useful information.
In this spirit I hope we shall proceed not to extort confessions from one another but to furnish matter for private serious thinking without prejudice; and come to such conclusions as the quantity and quality of the evidence may induce each of us sincerely to believe is just.
The following statement will appear to many, to be, superfluous. In such cases as this it is not so, but on the contrary is necessary to make men who have never learned to reason correctly, or to push any matter presented to them to a conclusion as well as those who have not attended to the subject to understand its bearing. Great impediments are placed in the way of giving useful information, because they who should be the teachers of the people will not adapt themselves to the condition and capacity of the men they mean to teach.
In a few and only a few instances have I been able to convince some of the Trades delegates who have consulted me of the absurdity of the notion that every thing produced or manufactured, belongs solely to the people who made it, and this too without reference to the many hands it has gone through the manufacturing hands being alone contemplated by them.
I have proceeded thus. I will shew you that upon your system there never could be any property or even any thing deserving the name of a habitation, and consequently neither—conveniences—nor comforts—no books no knowledge, and that we should in no very long time be reduced to the condition in which the inhabitants of this Island were, a state which induced an eminent historian to call them, 'hairy naked savages'.
In the Vale of the Mississippi in North America, many families of Farmers do all the work required by their own families, some of these families grow cotton. Let us then suppose that some of these families have a quantity of cotton wool to dispose of, for the purpose of procuring several things which their farms do not produce. It is plain that the cotton wool is theirs, they sell it, and in payment receive either, money—or produce or commodities or all three, but the money the produce, and the commodities are all of them produced by competition, and profit making, and but for which the purchaser of the cotton wool would have no means of paying for it, no capital, and as there would be no purchaser, so there would be no growers and consequently no cotton would be grown there, as was actually the case 100 years ago.
The cotton wool has thus changed hands it is no longer the property, or part of the capital of the growers, but it has become the property, the capital, of the man who made the purchase. This man employs people to pack and convey the cotton wool to the sea port, New Orleans, and to put it on board a ship. Does the cotton belong to these persons? No. They are intitled to the sum, no matter whether it be money or some of the cotton, according to the agreement they made to be paid for their labour. The cotton then remains the property of the man who purchased it from the growers. The ship brings him and his cotton to Liverpool. Is the cotton the property of the crew of the Ship? No—they are paid according to their agreement for the part they have performed. The owner of the cotton, lands it and puts it into a warehouse, paying those employed for this purpose, and engaging to pay the owner of the warehouse for ware room. The cotton still remaining his.
After some time the cotton wool is brought from the man whose property it was, it is now the property of the manufacturer who has paid for it, and he has it conveyed from Liverpool to Manchester. It is obvious that neither the warehouseman, nor the carrier, could have any right to the cotton wool beyond the quantity which would pay them for the labour and accomodation [sic] they had supplied and furnished, but as the manufacturer wishes to keep the cotton and the persons employed prefer having money to wool—the manufacturer pays them in money, and all the cotton remains his. He now employs people Men, Women, Children, to prepare and spin and weave, and the cotton wool becomes cloth. Will you now say that because these people have been employed to convert the cotton wool into cloth that the cloth is theirs? Is it not evident that only as much of the cloth is theirs as will pay them according to their contracts or agreements, wages, but as before money being more convenient for their purposes than cloth they are paid in money and the cloth remains with the manufacturer. The value of this cloth must be such as will pay all the costs and charges of growing— bringing to market and manufacturing, and also the reasonable profit of the grower; the purchaser who brings it to Liverpool and the Manufacturer. Their profits are not regulated by the will of the owner of the wool or of the manufacturer but by the supply and the demand. If there be much competition the profit will be small, but if there be little competition the profit will be large. But large profits produce competition and they are soon reduced to the average rate of profit of other manufacturers. It is the same with wages. If there be many hands, there will be much competition for employment and wages will be low, if there be few hands there will be little competition for employment and wages will be high; But high wages produce competition and they are soon reduced to the average rate for similarly skilled or unskilled labour, and if the number of hands be very great, the least skilled labour is paid for at the lowest rate at which hands will consent to labour. It is no more at the will of the labourer what wages he will have, than it is at the will of the manufacturer what profit he will have, labour like commodities will be cheap or dear as the demand is great or little, and the consequent competition among the labourers is also great or little.
If instead of the American farmers and his [sic] family being the cultivators of the cotton, he hired other persons to cultivate the land for him the case would not be altered, neither would the cost of production be increased, for so long as families in considerable number cultivated cotton, the value of the labour expended in producing it would be equal to the value of the labour which must be hired by him who employed labourers, since he must sell at the same price as he who did not hire labourers, or he must sell at less profit, for he could not raise his price, competition would keep the price where it was, and, as cultivation was improved and was extended, and the quantity of cotton produced was also increased competition would bring down the price to the lowest sum at which it could be sold so as to pay the growers and give them the average or common profit.
It follows then that without acumulation [sic]—that is—increase of wealth—or what is called capital; there could be no purchases, no exchanges, and that cotton wool would not be grown in America, and that there would be none made into cloth in Great Britain, as was the case at the commencement of the last century, when there was not so many as half the number of people there now is, and when the generality of the people's condition was worse than as may be ascertained by reference to the writers of the time, and by the conclusive fact that one with another the value of life has since that period increased  years, that is one with another the people live  years longer now than they did then.
The same sort of ownership is applicable to every other case. As for instance an oak tree. It must belong to somebody, when cut down, they who cut it down must share in its value and be paid accordingly. It would be the same did the tree become the property of those who cut it down and prepared it for the saw pit, and so it would be with the parts of it when it was sawed up—some might be used for Ship building—House building— Furniture—Fences etc. but the wood itself could not belong to those who merely bestowed labour upon it in converting it to its several uses, all that could belong to them could not exceed the increased value it would have when converted. If the converters purchased the wood, they would have the gross profit arising therefrom and the value of the wood, that is they would have, the money the wood cost them, the usual wages paid for the kind of conversion, and the usual profit on such articles. If some one of them bought the wood and employed the others to convert it, the wood would be his and if we suppose, as has sometimes happened he was too poor to pay the men he had employed until the table they made was sold, the money for which it was sold would be divided thus. Payment for the wood, wages to the men employed, and profit to the man who employed them. Thus it is the produce of every article manufactured is divided, but in most cases the operation is not quite so simple. As for instance in the case of the price of calico. The sum it must sell for, if the business is to continue must be sufficient to pay for the cotton wool in the first instance and all the expenses thereon, to the time it is sold to the manufacturer, and also the usual profit to the man who bought it in America and brought it to Liverpool, all the expenses of the manufacturer—such as rent, for his factory cost of machinery— in wear and tear, replacement of the money the wool cost wages of work people and the usual profit of trade. No one article can continue to be manufactured unless it does all this. Profit for the purpose of acumulation as the means of distinction, comfort, enjoyment and increase of knowledge is the great stimulus to exertion, beyond the mere means of animal existence and without it, it would be impossible for the people of any country, but of this in particular, to be otherwise than as the historian said we were, few in number and that very small number—'hairy naked savages'.
The [London Working Men's] Association was every week increasing the number of its members, of its books—a considerable number having been presented, and also some newspapers and other periodical publications. It had become known extensively, its influence was spreading rapidly and similar associations were formed and being formed in a great many places.
The success of the association precipitated it into proceedings which exhausted its means too rapidly, and prevented it accomplishing many purposes which were of much more present and would have been thereafter of much more permanent importance than those they embarked in though they were of much importance as demonstrations of the actual influence of a body of self conducted working men. In proceeding thus, however they did no more than other political associations had done before them, and that too from the same cause their eagerness to come before and to be continually before the public. Scarcly [sic] has any one such society acted otherwise, all have to some, most to a considerable extent mistaken the noise they made, and the portion of public notice they obtained as evidences of power, and yet these demonstrations have never had but one tendency, namely to prevent them obtaining any portion of the consideration and consequently of the power a more deliberate and wisely conducted course might have enabled them to possess. This will be exemplified to a great extent in respect to the conduct of the working mens association and of all similar associations. The members of such associations have yet to learn to practice what they preach, to apply their homely proverb—'that you must first creep and then go' to themselves as aggregated bodies. That is only by long continued steady, patient, liberal conduct, accepting and using every kind of assistance which may at any time and in any way be available. Making no absurd pretension to any thing and especially not to superior wisdom and honesty, but acting with becoming modesty but with indomitable perseverance. Wheneve[r] they shall in considerable numbers, attain to this moral condition, they will be much more respected than feared, and will then be in the right way to obtain whatever of power it may be useful for them to exercise, and that too as it can be beneficially made use of. This is however a kind of wisdom which comes to any class of men but slowly, and can only be acquired by working men though their errors.
They determined to hold a public meeting in the great room at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand on the evening of tuesday the 28th of february, for the purpose of proposing a reform of the house of commons, the whole of the business to be conducted by working men. The reforms proposed were
1 Equal representation
3 Annual Parliaments
5 Vote by Ballot
2 Universal Suffrage
4 No Property Qualification
6 Sittings and payment of members
|Rob't Hartwell the Chairman||William Lovett Cabinet Maker|
|Henry Vincent Printer||White|
|William Hoare Shoemaker||John Cleave Pamphlet seller|
|Henry Hetherington Printer||John Rogers Tailor|
The proceedings of this meeting were published in several newspapers as were also the petition (fn. 1) and resolutions passed at the meeting.
The members of the association were greatly elated with their success though it left them in debt. It assisted by making the association more generally known and what were called its principles more generally understood and to some extent facilitated the formation of other similar associations.