Some important lessons were taught by these deplorable events to persons in authority, civil and military, as well as to the public at large. First, the danger of inflaming the minds of the ignorant masses by appeals to physical force, and by the denunciation of individuals, pointing them out as objects of popular vengeance; secondly, the danger of leaving the masses in such a state of ignorance, that they can be driven to lawless courses by such appeals; thirdly, that it is a grievously false humanity in magistrates to allow rioting to go ahead, and not to trample out promptly and sternly the first sparks of lawlessness and incendiarism. Early in the following year the mayor and the commanding officer, colonel Brereton, were brought to trial for neglect of duty. The mayor was acquitted, as not having been adequately supported by the military; but colonel Brereton's humanity led to the most painful consequences. His trial began on the 9th of January following, and lasted four days, during which, as the proofs against him accumulated, he was overwhelmed with agony of mind. On the night of the 12th he did not visit, as was his custom, the chamber of his two motherless daughters. He was heard walking for hours about his room during that night, and in the morning, when the court assembled, it was announced that the prisoner had shot himself through the heart.
This tragedy produced a painful sensation through the whole community. The facts brought to light at the trial had the effect of dissociating the Bristol outrages from the cause of reform, with which they had no real connection. Still the leading anti-reformers were extremely obnoxious to the people; and as men's minds became more and more heated, in reiterating demands for national rights, withheld by a faction, extreme opinions grew into greater favour. For example, a national political union was formed in London, and held a great meeting, at which Sir Francis Burdett presided. This body issued a manifesto, in which they demanded annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote by ballot. This was a legitimate demand; but they broached communistic and subversive doctrines when they proclaimed " that all property honestly acquired is sacred and inviolable; that all men are born equally free, and have certain natural and inalienable rights; that all hereditary distinctions of birth are unnatural, and opposed to the equal rights of man, and ought to be abolished; and that they would never be satisfied with any laws that stopped short of these principles." Altogether, the country was in a most dangerous crisis in the autumn of 1831.