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Trades Combinations page 3


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Mr. Rushton, of Manchester, declared that it was the last of their meetings until they were prepared to congratulate them on the recovery of their rights. The day was at hand when the Government and aristocracy would compel them to meet in a manner that would result in the eternal happiness of the people and the eternal ruin of their enemies. Lord John Russell had offered to supply a certain portion of the people with arms; he advised them, therefore, to go to the constables in their various neighbourhoods and demand arms, and to swear allegiance to the Queen. Let them swear at the altar of their God that rather than suffer the wives of their bosoms to be torn from them, they would suffer death. The propositions read from the chair were severally proposed and adopted, and the meeting peaceably dispersed.

Other meetings, however, were held in various places, which ended in disturbance, the most serious of which occurred at Birmingham. The inhabitants of this town had been kept in a state of almost incessant alarm by the proceedings of disorderly persons calling themselves Chartists. Representations to this effect having been sent to the Home Office, sixty picked men of the metropolitan force were sent down to aid the civil authorities in the preservation of peace. They arrived at Birmingham by the railway on Thursday, July 4th, and speedily mustering, they marched two abreast into the Bull-ring, where about 2,000 Chartists were assembled, at nine o'clock in the evening. They endeavoured, at first, to induce the meeting quietly to disperse, but failed in the attempt. They then seized the flags with which Lord Nelson's monument in the centre of the square was decorated, and among which was one that bore a death's head; but the Chartists, who had at first been disconcerted, recaptured them, after a desperate struggle, and broke their staves into pieces, to be used as clubs. A conflict immediately ensued, in which the police, who were armed only with their batons, were seriously injured; and the Chartists were retiring in triumph, when the 4th Dragoons charged them, by concert, through all the streets leading to the Bull-ring, and they fled in every direction. The cavalry pursued; and though the rioters attempted, for a moment, to make a stand in Bromsgrove Street, where they tore up the palisades for weapons, they were completely dispersed. All was quiet by midnight; and the military, having placed a guard in the great square, retired to their barracks. Ten persons were arrested, and committed to Warwick gaol; and among them Dr. John Taylor, who was dressed in the insignia which belonged to his position among the Chartists, and who was liberated the next day, upon Feargus O'Connor and a pawnbroker of Birmingham, named Smith, entering into sureties to the amount of 250 each, for his appearance at the ensuing Warwick Assizes. Messrs. Lovett and Collins were also brought before the magistrates at nine o'clock, p.m., charged with publishing a scandalous and malicious libel, entitled, " Resolutions unanimously agreed to by the General Convention," and signed, " W. Lovett, secretary." The following is the document in question: - "That this convention is of opinion that a wanton, flagrant, and unjust outrage has been made upon the people of Birmingham by a bloodthirsty and unconstitutional force from London, acting under the authority of men who, when out of office, sanctioned and took part in the meetings of the people; and now, when they share in the public plunder, seek to keep the people in social and political degradation. That the people of Birmingham are the best judges of their own right to meet in the Bull-ring, or elsewhere; have their own feelings to consult respecting the outrage given, and are the best judges of their own power to obtain justice. That the summary and despotic arrest of Dr. Taylor, our respected colleague, affords another convincing proof of the absence of all justice in England, * and clearly shows that there is no security for life, liberty, or property, till the people have some control over the laws they are called upon to obey."

The two prisoners were committed on their own statements. On the Monday following large crowds of people assembled in different parts of the town. The military were again called out in aid of the police, and a skirmish ensued. The next day, the people, having been denied the town hall for holding a public meeting, assembled at Holloway End. The rifles were ordered to disperse them; the people resisted, and began to pelt the military with stones. The order to load and make ready was given, when, the 4th Dragoons having made their apperv- ance: the fatal word "fire" was fortunately not given, as the crowds at once dispersed. Several prisoners were arrested, and brought in under escort. All apprehension of further disturbance seemed now at an end; but the magistrates indulged in a false sense of security. On the 15th of July the mayor remained at the public office until five o'clock in the evening, and then went to his residence, a mile out of town. One of the magistrates was near the Bull-ring at a quarter past eight, and all vas quiet. But " the sacred month" had commenced, during which the Chartists had bound themselves to abstain from working. Having nothing to do but listen to inflammatory speeches, and brood over their defeat by the dragoons, they were burning for an opportunity of showing their power once more, which was furnished by the expected return of Messrs. Collins and Lovett from prison. They accordingly assembled in large crowds in the Bull-ring, when they were irritated by some collisions with the police, in which two men were severely wounded. In order to avoid further irritation, the police were called into the yard of the police office, out of the gaze of the people, but this had not the desired effect. About eight o'clock the mob commenced breaking the windows of the office, and flinging stones into the yard. Shortly after they began to break the windows and large lamps in High Street and Spiral Street. They next attacked the houses, for which purpose they armed themselves with the iron palisade surrounding the Nelson monument. They broke into the warehouses, flinging their contents into the streets - tea, sugar, spices, tobacco, cheese, brushes, leather, cutlery, jewellery, &c. A large pile of bedding was set on fire in the Bull-ring. The windows and the shop-fittings were remorselessly demolished by the infuriated multitude. A few minutes past nine o'clock the cry of "fire! " was raised. Scarcely had the words been uttered when the rioters carried immense heaps of burning materials from the streets, forcing them into the houses of Mr. Bourne and Mr. Legatt. Within a quarter of an hour the flames burst out with awful violence from both houses, amidst the exulting shouts of the rioters. While this work of destruction was going on, they had the streets to themselves. The general cry among the inhabitants was, "Where are the military? Where are the magistrates?" At length, about ten o'clock, sixty of the metropolitan police, with a posse of special constables, made their appearance, and rushed upon the rioters sword in hand, causing them to fly in all directions. The dragoons, under the command of Colonel Chatterton, were now discerned galloping down Moore Street, and another squadron ft the same moment down High Street, and in five minutes about 300 of the rifle brigade marched to the Bull-ring. The inhabitants, feeling like people sore pressed by a long siege, clapped their hands with joy at the approach of their deliverers. The fire engines also came under escort, having been driven away before, and set about arresting the conflagration. In the meantime the cavalry were scouring and clearing the streets and suburbs, and the police were busily engaged bringing in prisoners. About midnight the roofs of the two houses had fallen in, and about one o'clock the fire was got under. Next day the shops were nearly all closed, the middle classes full of suspicion, and the populace vowing vengeance against the police and the soldiers. A piece of artillery placed at the head of High Street contributed materially to prevent further disturbance. About twenty prisoners were made, and the evidence produced before the magistrates showed the determined purpose of the rioters. Penny editions of Colonel Macerone's book on street and house- fighting were extensively circulated. A large quantity of pikes had been seized, and it was avowed that the destruction of property was part of the plan. The rioters said they did not wish to injure any person, but they were resolved to make the rich as poor as themselves. It is a singular fact, that throughout the whole of those violent proceedings no one was killed; though two persons were dangerously wounded. When these outrages were the subject of discussion in the House of Lords, the Duke of Wellington said, "That he had seen as much of war as most men; but he had never seen a town carried by assault, subjected to such violence as Birmingham had been during an hour by its own inhabitants."

The excitement was kept up during the summer and autumn by meetings held in various places, and the arrest of persons taking a prominent part in the proceedings. On the 4th of August there was an evening meeting at Manchester held in Stephenson's Square, when about 5,000 persons attended. The object was to determine whether "the sacred month" should commence on the 12th of August or not. Mr. Butterworth, who moved the first resolution, said he considered that the Chartists of 1839 were the Whigs of 1832, and the Whigs of 1839 were the Tories of 1832. The Whigs were more violent then than the Chartists now, and yet the Whigs were the very men to punish the Chartists. During the meeting persons in the crowd continued to discharge firearms. It went off, however, without any disturbance of the public peace. In connection with the observance of "the sacred month," or the national holidays, it was expected that the Chartists and their families could live by extorting daily contributions from the middle classes, who had ]been compelled to subscribe to the national defence fund, on pain of Chartist penalties, the nature of which may be inferred from the following letter, sent by the Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, to the magistrates of Manchester and the neighbourhood. As an historical document, it will throw some light on the state of society at the time: -

"Gentlemen, - Haying been informed that in some parts of the kingdom attempts have lately been made to obtain money from shopkeepers, householders, and others, by means of intimidation (as by threatening them with personal danger, or with loss of business, or threatening to mark them down and "report them as enemies, and by various other illegal means), and that persons have been combining and endeavouring to injure shopkeepers, householders, and others, in their lawful business, representing them as enemies to the people, and persuading others to leave off trading with them, thereby to prejudice them in their business; having been also informed that persons, in pursuance of an illegal combination, have gone about among the working classes of the people, exciting and endeavouring to persuade them to desist from working, and to desert their employers; I deem it to be my duty to call upon the magistrates to use their utmost endeavours to repress and put down such mischievous practices, which are contrary to law, injurious to trade, subversive of good order, and dangerous to the peace of the country; and to apprehend and bring the offenders to justice. I advise the magistrates to proceed against persons guilty of such illegal practices as for a misdemeanour. In case, also, persons should assemble, and go about in numbers to deter others of the working classes from pursuing their lawful business, or creating terror and alarm, I advise the magistrates to repress all such unlawful proceedings, and to bring the offenders to justice. The magistrates may be assured that, in the discharge of this and every other duty, they will be promptly and efficiently supported by Her Majesty's Government. I feel confident that Her Majesty's loyal and well-disposed subjects will, on their part, be ready at all times to give prompt and effectual assistance to magistrates in their endeavours to preserve the public peace."

Previous to the 12th of August the delegates of the National Convention met at the Arundel Coffee House, in the Strand, when they passed a series of resolutions to the effect that they were unanimously of opinion the people were not prepared to carry out "the sacred month" on that day; but they were of opinion that they might be induced to cease work on the 12th for two or three days, "in order to devote the whole of that time to solemn processions and meetings for deliberating on the present awful state of the country, and devising the best means of averting the hideous despotism with which the industrious orders are menaced by the murderous majority of the upper and middle classes, who prey upon their labours." They proceed thus: - "We at the same time beg to announce to the country, that it is the deliberate opinion of this council, that unless the trades of Great Britain shall co-operate as united bodies with their more distressed brethren, in making a grand national and moral demonstration on the 12th instant, it will be impossible to save the country from a revolution of blood, which, after enormous sacrifices of life and property, will terminate in the utter subjection of the whole of the working people to the moneyed murderers of society. Under these circumstances, we implore all our brother Chartists to abandon the project of 'a sacred month,' as being for the present utterly impracticable, and to prepare themselves forthwith to carry into effect the aforesaid constitutional objects on the 12th instant. We also implore the united trades, if they would save the country from convulsion, and themselves and families from ruin, to render their distressed brethren all the aid in their power, on or before the 12th instant, towards realising the great and beneficial object of this holy day. Men of the trades! the salvation of the empire is in your hands."

Placards containing these resolutions were posted about Manchester and other towns in the north of England. The appeal was generally responded to. There were collisions with the police in different places - at Manchester, Salford, Heywood, Macclesfield, Boston, Nottingham, Sheffield, and Rochdale. At Chester 500 special constables were sworn in, and the garrison was held in readiness for suppressing an apprehended riot, but none occurred. The 12th was observed in the metropolis by a Chartist demonstration on Kennington Common, the object of which was to adopt a memorial to the Queen, praying for a remission of the sentence of death, passed the week before, upon three of the Birmingham rioters. A number of persons met as early as eleven o'clock, and marched in procession to Lincoln's Inn Fields, where they were met by several thousands of Chartists, from various districts about the metropolis. The whole body then marched back in order to Kennington Common, where they were addressed by Mr. Feargus O'Connor, Mr. W. Carpenter, Mr. Cardo, Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Hare, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Johnson. The memorial was adopted, with the addition of a prayer to Her Majesty for "the dismissal from her counsels of those men who have shown themselves hostile to the constitutional rights of the people, and whose conduct is furthermore calculated to produce all the dreadful consequences of a bloody revolution."

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