London Radicalism 1830-1843 A Selection of the Papers of Francis Place. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1970.
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I am commanded by the King to inform your lordship, that his majesty's confidential servants have felt it to be their duty to advise the king to postpone the visit which their majesties intended to pay to the City of London on Tuesday next.
From information which has been recently received, there is reason to apprehend that, notwithstanding the devoted loyalty and affection born to his majesty by the citizens of London, advantage would be taken of an occasion which must necessarily assemble a vast number of persons by right to create tumult and confusion, and thereby to endanger the property and lives of his majesty's subjects.
It would be a source of deep and lasting concern to their majesties were any calamity to occur on the occasion of their visit to the City of London, and their majesties have therefore resolved, though not without the greatest reluctance and regret, to forgo for the present the gratification which that visit would have afforded to their majesties.
'Miracles never will cease'. Here am I, 'the furious republican' whose opinions have induced many to fear and more to hate him become a moderé, writing to you not to accelerate an instant, but to retard it, not a mere reform, but an actual change.
The paltry contemptible procession to Guildhall so sillily agreed to by the King could do nothing but mischief, and was sure to put an end to his popularity if it had done nothing else. The refusal to go even at the eleventh hour is the best course which could have been taken. I hope he has not been persuaded to it by ministers, but that he has peremptorily refused to go, and not withstanding his refusal will on any ground, mark his folly, it is much less foolish to stay away than to go.
Now comes the rub, opposition will observe no bounds. I do not desire that they should if they would take the proper course, and instead of endeavouring at once to turn out Ministers, they would rather try to keep them in office as long as they can, it would not be long. Their efforts should now be fully to expose the ministerial absurdities, especially that of the Kings intended visit to the Lord Mayor, thus encouraging the vile corporation to spend a considerable sum of the peoples money extorted from them under false pretences by these corrupt Corporators, the whole of the City Government being from the top to the bottom a burlesque on the human understanding more contemptible than the most paltry farce played in a booth at Bartholomew fair, and more mischievous than any man living is perhaps prepared to believe.
The King refuses to make a procession along the streets, and the Play Houses are from very fear to be shut up tomorrow. This is the first time, observe that apprehension of violence by the people against an administration as to induce them openly to change their plan of proceeding.
Put these matters in any way you please. Let them do all they can to reconcile themselves to the conduct of ministers, let them excuse it how they may, let them deprecate it as much as they please, let them practice selfdeception to the greatest possible extent to persuade themselves that no material consequences can result from it, its nature cannot be changed, neither can they make it other than the first step in the British Revolution.
You know my opinion of the weakness of the present Government, you know my opinion that there never can be a strong government again in England until there has been a change even in its very form, and neither you nor any one else will argue the contrary against me. I then want no instant change of ministers. I am as certain as a man can be who is not desirous to cheat himself or to be deceived by others, that a present change of ministers would do more towards producing, or rather accelerating a revolution than all the other circumstances of the times taken together, and the time is not yet come when a radical change can be made either so effectually as to prevent other similar changes, or so beneficially as to answer the purposes of any class of reformers. Critically as ministers are circumstanced I doubt their courage to continue in office, if opposition within and without were to be ever so little countenanced by the King, and if they were to be ousted at once who are to come in. Not another Tory set. There are not tory materials of sufficient importance to build up an Administration which could continue in office to the end of the session. Not a whig administration, for spite of the wishes of their friends, here is hardly any thing but imbecility. Who would be minister, Earl Grey, look at him is he competent to the duty? No man will say he is. Are these the times when such a man however good his intention can advantageously be minister. The answer must be NO. The power would soon fall from his hands to light on some one,—who can say whom? The Marquess of Lansdown, why should the fact be concealed that he is in no way competent to the duties of the office. If he were minister he must be led by others, must be a hesitating, vacillating irregular and consequently mischievous minister. He would either be driven away or driven mad in six months. Lord Holland he has gone by, or rather circumstances have gone by and left him behind. He might have done in quiet times, he will not do now. If I am mistaken in these matters you will really do me a favour and some service by shewing me that I am mistaken, and you shall have my thanks.
If on the contrary I am not mistaken, do pray do all you can to prevent the unwise conduct of your friends in resisting ministers in such a way as to compel them to resign at once. Abuse their proceedings as much as you please, but beyond this do nothing to prevent them sinking gradually as low as possible, and there leave them to work themselves out of office, which will happen quite soon enough.
A letter was written on saturday last, by a fellow named Chubb, a vagabond pamphlet seller in Holy-well Street to Mr. Hume. This Chubb knows as well as any man can know how the vulgarity feel, he is acquainted with a multitude of vagabonds who are fit for any mischief. In his letter he says there is an intention among many to seize the Palace of St. James's as soon as the King's party have left it. The doing as he says is absurd and improbable, but you may depend upon it, some such project has been talked of to a considerable extent.
Information was given to the Police Commissioners that Henry Hunt was to lead 20,000 men from the Surrey side of the Thames over Black Friars Bridge to Ludgate Hill to pay their respects to the King, and to let him hear the sentiments of the people. That Hunt could collect and lead twice that number I have no doubt, but I do not believe that any such a procession would have taken place.
It has been said by some respectable persons that if the Duke went in the procession he would be shot, and I know well enough that if in the opinion of vast numbers of persons, shooting the Duke would lead to a fight with the Government there would be many willing enough to shoot at him.
I have seen a letter from the man, whom I consider the most influential man in England, Thomas Attwood of Birmingham, proposing an association to collect the names of persons in London who will pledge themselves to pay no more taxes, if ministerial interference should produce the probability of a war with Belgium, and I believe something of the kind will be done. There has long been growing a disposition to refuse paying taxes, but it [is] only now that rich men who have any influence have countenanced it. Now there are many such willing to take part in it.
Now mark the consequence. If any considerable portion of the housekeepers were to refuse paying taxes, and especially if this were to happen in London a revolution would be effected in a week spite of the Government and the Army. If taxes were refused it would instantly produce a panic. Bank of England notes would no longer circulate, and Government would be powerless. No one would bring a sack of flour, a bullock or a sheep to the London Markets. The moment taxes were really refused the shops would be all closed, decent people would remain at home, until the populace and the soldiers had fought and were reconciled; a provisional government would then be formed.
No man can tell what fortuitous circumstances may produce a revolution. A revolution when a very large body of the people shall desire one may easily be produced. If no other circumstance shall precipitate it here refusing to pay taxes whenever it may happen will certainly produce it. That it will happen before many years have passed away seems to me a reasonable expectation. You know my opinion, that when men ought to act, they should act promptly, and go through with the business be it whatever it may. You know that I have a great dislike to undertake any matter unless circumstances seem to warrant the conclusion, that it can be wholly and not partially accomplished. I have always held that when action becomes necessary, it is much better to risk doing wrong, than doing nothing, and if opposition had no choice I should say go on, don't hesitate a moment, oust the ministers as soon as possible, but they have a choice and may do mischief if they refuse, or neglect to take that choice.
Nothing under the circumstances of the time could have been so ill advised as was that of ministers respecting the visit of the King to the Lord Mayor [9 November 1830]. If a protest had been wanted as an excuse to attack the people similar to the Manchester Massacre in 1819—it might have been found in such a proceeding, but this was not intended. Ministers were silly enough to suppose it would be a grand fete, and such they intended it should be, they saw nothing in it but the popularity of the King and their own glory; the feelings, and the power of the people when called upon to act for a specific purpose was wholly unknown to them. Of their disposition to resist whatever they might consider agression [sic] no matter by what means produced they had no knowledge, and saw in them nothing but mere mobs—and yet were [where] paltry assemblies had to a considerable extent benumbed them, they seem to have been in a curious state of contradiction each man with himself and with each other. Had the procession been persevered in there would have been a riot and much blood would have been shed, it is even probable that very serious consequences beyond this would have taken place. The 9 of November which always calls an immense number of silly people into the streets would have been a grand holiday for all sorts of people, all the working people would have gone forth, and with the notions they entertained, that they could fight, and the desire to prove themselves as valiant as the Parisians, and could beat the soldiers as they had done, might have led to a temporary defeat of them, and this by the extinction of trade—and the refusal to take Bank Paper might have produced a revolution. Even under any termination to a riot so general, as could not have failed to have taken place, the procession was a matter to be deprecated and if possible prevented. I did all I could, in every way I could, to convince every man I saw who had any influence of any kind, that it was his duty to use it to prevent the procession. I wrote to Ministers and laid my notions before them, without advising anything, but merely as suggestions for consideration. I still further explained to three different gentlemen who came to me from three different departments why the proceeding was absurd and dangerous, I advised and cautioned them and I believe convinced them of the absurdity of advising and the evil consequences which could not fail, to be the result of the procession, and I induced Mr. Thomas the inspector of police to represent the matter in its true light to every gentleman he might have an opportunity of speaking to whom he might think at all likely to influence others.
The weakness and foolishness of ministers became more and more conspicuous not only from day to day, but from hour to hour, and was condemned by every body. Their folly was indeed perfect, for at the very time they were making arrangements for the procession which they intended should increase the popularity of the King and strengthen their own government, at the very moment when they were getting up a grand cavalcade from the western end of Pall Mall to the eastern end of Cheapside, in which the King, the Queen, the Foreign Embassaders [sic]—themselves, and others were to form the principal part, they put into the Kings mouth, words which were sure to alarm and offend the people from one end of the Kingdom to the other, and they permitted the Duke of Wellington, to make his insulting declaration, without in the least anticipating the consequences of such conduct.
As their eyes were opened to the consequences of their conduct, they became alarmed, and at length succeeded in frightening themselves completely and in the blindness of their fear they proceeded to fortify the Tower of London. The Tower ditch had not been cleaned out for many years, and was choaked [sic] with mud, this was now to be cleaned away in a hurry. Fear is usually as ridiculous as it is blind, and so it proved in this instance, it hurried them on with such rapidity, that they let the water into the ditch without giving time to the labourers to remove their carts, barrows and planks and other implements, and all were therefore either swamped or floated about in the ditch.
On Sunday the 7 November a letter signed by the Home Secretary Mr Peel was sent to the Lord Mayor postponing the intended visit. This letter was immediately published by the Lord Mayor under the sanction of the committee appointed to conduct the entertainment. It appeared in all the newspapers of the next day.
The Lord Mayor elect had written a letter to the Duke of Wellington, most probably a concerted letter, in which he advised the Duke, 'to come strongly and sufficiently guarded'. Strange advice this from a Lord Mayor elect to the Premier—Guarded—like the King. The modest Duke could not take advantage of the honour suggested. Inflamatory hand bills had been distributed, probably at the expense of some ministerial tool to enable ministers to take advantage of them, as was proved to have been done on a famous occasion, but be this as it may, these things furnished an excuse for the letter to the Lord Mayor postponing the visit, a measure so proper in itself as not to have needed any such pitiful manouvres [sic].
On the first of March , the day on which Lord John Russell was to make his motion [on reform of the House of Commons], much anxiety was generally felt by the people in the metropolis, they were excited by the hope that a real reform would be proposed, but they were also disturbed by the fear that they might be disappointed. Persons who were usually neutral in respect to political matters had now become eager to obtain information and desirous that enough should be done at once to satisfy everybody.
I saw several members of parliament and a great many others respectable well informed well judging men, the feeling in all of them was alike and in all hope prevailed that a very considerable measure of reform would be produced.
I was alone in the evening anxiously expecting some one to come from the house to tell me what had occurred, at length a friend who had taken a report of about half of Lord John Russells speech for the Morning Chronicle came in and told me the particulars of the ministerial plan. It was so very much beyond any thing which I had expected; that had it been told to me by a person unused to proceedings in the house I should have supposed that he had made a mistake. Both I and my informant were delighted, and we at once took measures to cause it to be known in the coffee houses in the neighbourhood where it spread like wild fire, to great distances, and other persons being equally desirous as ourselves to spread the information left the house of commons to communicate the earliest news to their friends. One of these came to me as soon as Lord John Russell had concluded his speech, and in less than an hour from that time the intelligence was spread all over the metropolis. The next morning the joy of the reformers was excessive, the newspapers were bought in immense numbers and read with avidity, every body seemed well pleased and the exhiliration [sic] was very general. Nothing within my memory had ever before produced such general exultation and the conviction appeared to be as general that there needed only a determined unremitted vigilant course of conduct on the part of ministers to carry the measure through the house triumphantly.
A great many people came to me, and urged me to call a public meeting of the electors of Westminster without waiting for the formality of applying to the High Bailiff to convene it, in the usual manner. . . .
The persons who met to prepare the resolutions were more than usually numerous about 40 attended—they agreed to do all that I proposed and I made out a business sheet, for the government of the proceedings in the public room when the time of the meeting was nearly arrived there being then, upwards of sixty persons in the room, an objection was made by some one to the resolutions respecting the duration of parliament and voting by ballot and some of the usual common place sayings about unanimity and embarrasment [sic] were used, but as Sir Francis Burdett took no notice of them, and very few of those present took part in the opposition the whole body went into the public room with the resolutions and petition as I had drawn them. The room was filled the proceedings went on with equal spirit and unanimity, and the resolutions respecting parliaments and the ballot were about to be put when Mr Hobhouse who had not only concurred in the resolutions and the petition but had voluntarily given five pounds towards the expenses of the meeting, after talking for some time with some gentlemanly looking men who had never before been seen at a Westminster meeting and have I believe never attended since, got upon the table at the call of the room, raised first by those near him, and told the company a tale of what had passed and of what was likely to pass at the house, insinuated first and then unequivocally asserted, that the resolutions and petition would have a bad effect in destroying unanimity—the word was echoed from many persons in the room, the mad man Pitt of the Adelphi, who had been averse from the beginning to the resolutions, had spoken against them but with no effect, vociferated unanimity and a clamour ensued which for a short time interrupted the proceedings—Sir Francis Burdett then repeated in part what Hobhouse had said amidst shouts of unanimity—and the resolutions and petition were withdrawn. Some one at the table who had been active in urging on and in supporting Hobhouse tore the petition into bits and threw it under the table. These were true whig tactics, they had been expected and no one of those with whom I had acted was at all surprised at the proceeding. The whigs as well as Hobhouse and his especial friends knew these were times, when in some respects, they might presume to go great lengths without inducing the reformers to come to any open quarrel, and the matter dropped. But Hobhouse did himself serious injury in the opinion of many of those who had worked hard to secure his return for Westminster, as was soon seen at the next election when scarcely any of them came forward in his behalf, as they had done on former occasions.
1. That this meeting calling to mind the long continued exertions of the Inhabitants of this City and Liberty, to procure a reform in the Commons House of Parliament, are highly gratified at finding, that the Kings Ministers with the consent and approbation of his Majesty have proposed considerable and greatly beneficial alterations in the mode of electing members to serve in that house.—In cutting off several sources of corruption, and in extending the right of suffrage to many places which have not hitherto enjoyed that right.
2. That the following address be adopted by this meeting, congratulating his Majesty on the good feelings he has evinced towards his people by his sanction of the plan of reform proposed by his ministers, and that it be presented to his Majesty by Sir Francis Burdett and John Cam Hobhouse Esq.
3. That to make the plan of reform proposed by his Majesty's Ministers effectual, and to prevent further changes, it is necessary, that the duration of Parliaments be limited to a period not exceeding three years.
4. That to secure to the electors of the United Kingdom the power to choose representatives freely—without being unduly influenced by the wealthy —and without being in dread of the powerful, it is necessary that their votes should be taken by Ballot.
5. That the following petition embodying these resolutions be adopted by the meeting signed by twenty one electors and be presented to the house of Commons by our representatives Sir Francis Burdett Bart and John Cam Hobhouse Esq.
To the honourable the commons of the United Kingdom in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned inhabitants of the City and Liberty of Westminster on the behalf of themselves and their fellow citizens in public meeting assembled this 4th day of March 1831.
That anticipating many of the evils which have fallen on the people from the want of their being duly represented in your honourable house, the inhabitants of Westminster have during the last fifty years repeatedly petitioned your honourable house to restore to their fellow subjects their share in the legislature, and have as repeatedly called on their fellow countrymen to aid them in this the most important of all proceedings for the honour the prosperity and the happiness of the nation.
That the people in many places have from time to time petitioned your honourable house for a reform in parliament, but your honourable house has all along disregarded the prayers of the people until their grievances have become all but insupportable, and have at last compelled them to demand, as with one voice, the reform they have so often prayed for, and which has as often been denied them, when they were less unanimous than they now are in their requests.
That your petitioners have heard with great pleasure that the Kings Ministers, with the consent and approbation of his Majesty, have at length resolved to attend to the request of the people, for a reform in your honourable house.
Your petitioners therefore conclude by praying that in any plan of Reform which may be submitted to your honourable house, you will please to provide for the shortening of the duration of parliaments to a period not exceeding three years—and for taking of the votes of the electors by ballot.
Francis Place, Charing Cross—Thomas De Veare, Lisle Street—John Dean, Regent Street—T. Erskine Perry, Piccadilly—Wm a Beckett, Golden Square—Geo. Harper, Piccadilly—D. L. Evans, 12 Regent Street—Thos. King, Hanover Street—Joseph Cowell, Brydges Street—Wm. Adams, Long Acre—James Pitt, Piccadilly—Henry Ledwick Stephenson—Thomas Wakley, Bedford Street—Wm. Pigou, Greek Street—Geo. Eliot, Maclesfield Street—John Paget—G. W. Lynden—Edward Evans, Jermyn Street— John Harding, 14 Beak Street—Thomas Evans, Beak Street—Robert Kemp, 6 Leicester Street.