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In the same manner, many of the loose stories, rumours, and surmises, which the depositions of this year contain, if sifted by the smallest rigour of cross-examination, would have ceased to afford the least ground for believing in a systematic conspiracy. But the depositions, or rather such portions of them, and of their secret correspondence, as suited their own purpose, were laid before Parliament, without any of the checks which an examination would have afforded, before the most partial Committee that could have been packed.
We now resume this Evidence, such as it is; and, passing over the too well known events of the 16th of August, we may advert to the state of the other discontented counties. Each step we take will now tend to dissipate whatever portion of alarm may seem to arise from Lancashire,--for the whole case of the Government and the Alarmists is to be found there; and wherever greater forbearance was shown, the danger seems to have subsided of itself.
At Birmingham a meeting was held on the 12th July, for a purpose clearly illegal-the choice of a Member of Parliament without the King's writ. The worthy Magistrate who records its proceedings, begins by stating, that it was not attended
with any breach of the peace, and that the whole assemblage • had quietly dispersed before seven o'clock,' the hour of meeting having been nominally three. He adds, that the procese sion and ceremonies were ridiculous; the speeches far more moderate than in other places, and confined to the topics in vogue with Reformers; and that the whole members who attended, did not exceed 10,000, including a great portion of women and children, although the meeting had been represented as consisting of 25,000. The attendance of women and children, also, at the Manchester meeting, and their accompanying the processions which came from the country, affords a strong presumption, rebutted by no one ascertained fact, that those who took part in it had conceived no designs whatever hostile to the peace; and if it be said that the leaders had designs unknown to their numerous followers, we can only answer, that any meeting in the world, if numerously attended, may in the same way be accounted dangerous; both because large mobs are easily inflamed, and because a great show of numerical strength is, at all times, a mode of intimidation.
But the history of these proceedings in the West Riding of Yorkshire, is still more important in elucidating the nature of the supposed conspiracy. The first Reform meeting mentiona ed in the Papers, was held at Hunslet Moor, near Leeds, on VOL. XXXIII. NO. 65.
the 19th of July. The truly venerable and patriotic Nobleman, who happily was then at the head of the County, had arrived at bis post, and offered the Mayor of Leeds whatever aid he might deem requisite, for enabling him to preserve the King's peace. That worthy Magistrate, however, required no assistance; and Lord Fitzwilliam then gives an account of the proceedings--which, as compared with that of the meeting held there some time before, merits all our attention.
For the present, I have to report to your Lordship (according to the
reports made to me), that the tone of these gentlemen was manifestly humble and much lowered, compared to that they assumed at the preceding meeting, at the same place ; so much so, that even an inclination to petition Parliament was expressed ;-at the close, the meeting was dissolved.
"I am given to understand, that scarcely more than half the number of the preceding meeting had assembled at this, and that the proportion of women was much larger at this than at the former : It passed off without the least disturbance or tumult; and they dispersed in the most peaceable and orderly manner, without insult or affront to any one.
I have reason to think, that such a termination of this meeting was foreseen by the Mayor, founded upon an opinion, that the mass of the population within his jurisdiction is by no means disaffected, nor seditiously disposed; though they are suffering most cruel privations through want of employment, the consequence of stagnation of trade. But I am told, that, aware of the cause, they bear their hard lot with wonderful patience and resignation ; but the very circumstance of want of occupation, leads many to make part of the throng on occasion of such meetings, without being parties in the views of the leaders, or participating in their sentiments.
• It will be a happy thing, if the seditious and dangerous language that undoubtedly has been most directly held by these itinerant orators, can be brought home to them; the conviction of any will be a public good. But, bad as the men may be, and indefatigable in propagating their doctrines, their mischievous spirit does not pervade the mass of the population of the West Riding ; o from all I can collect, I report with confidence to your Lordship, that the peace, tranquillity, and good order of the Realm, will not be disturbed by these people.' Papers, p. 12.
Some days after making this satisfactory report, his Lordship went to the Assizes at York; and, during that great assemblage of the County, had a favourable opportunity of learning the prevailing sentiments of all classes, touching the real state of their several districts; and he found his own opinion both as to the cause and the extent of the discontents amply confirmed.
• I am confident,' says he, ' I speak the general sentiment of those present at York, in saying, that there is no cause for suspecting any disposition of the people of this Riding, to turbulence or commo
tion : if there be any discontent in their minds, it has nothing to do vith constitutional considerations, but arises out of the improvements in the art of manufacture, which diminishes the calls for their exer. tions and industry, and has become to them a real afflicting grievance. I add likewise, as the prevalent and I believe universal opinion of the gentlemen I met at York, that no step that could in any way convey a suspicion or jealousy of the people's views and wishes, should be adopted; but that, on the contrary, we should prove to them by our own demeanour, our opinion of their good disposition, and our confidence of their good conduct.' Papers, p. 13.
Thus it is to be observed, that, previous to the 16th of August, the meetings in Yorkshire had dwindled away in numbers and lowered in spirit; and that the local anthorities, though properly upon their guard, were in no degree alarmed or uneasy respecting them. When the affair of Manchester unhappily took place, immediately we find the spirit of discontent revived, and the meetings both more frequent and more numerously attended. On the 20th of August a meeting of 3000 was held at Huddersfield, and very violent language was used; but it is added that the speaker was supposed to be a spy.
About the same time, a meeting as large was held at Leeds; and the Mayor states a considerable change to be working among the reformers,' since the Manchester business; to discuss which, all these assemblies were convened. At Wakefield, complaints are made by the Justices, of the great irritation occasioned among the lower orders by the laudable conduct of the civil and military authorities at Manchester;' and various assemblages are stated to have been held there since those occurrences.' (Papers, p. 36, 37.) On the 27th of August, however, the Mayor of Leeds, having obtained an addition of cavalry, writes, that “ he feels perfectly confident’in the sufficiency of his precautions, for keeping the peace at the great meeting about to take place. It is impossible to praise
* It is remarkable that the orator, Mitchell, whose violence so greatly alarmed men at those meetings, and who is the person alluded to in the text, has since been arrested, and is to stand his trial for the seditious practices which he pursued, in order to seduce the unwary, and make business for himself with his employers in the Home Department. His intimacy with Oliver was the ground upon which the suspicions against him first arose, and in consequence of which he was turned off from the Hustings at the Yorkshire County Meeting. He now lies in jail for want of bail; and, by a strange coincidence, the committing Magistrate was the very person who gave the alarming accounts from Halifax,
too highly the admirable conduct pursued by this excellent, active, and judicious Magistrate, affording so remarkable a contrast to that followed elsewhere with such lamentable effects.
'I sincerely hope the strong attitude we have taken in this respect, without hitherto interfering with the proceedings of the reformers, will have due weight with them, and deter them from going to the dangerous lengths they have in Lancashire ; and which, I am quite satisfied, is the object of their leaders. I am most anxious to avoid any contact with them, until they commit themselves by some breach of the peace, when I might be warranted in a decisive interference. - I have a strong objection, which I think it right to name to your Lordship, to make use of the yeomanry, except as an auxiliary force, and in case only of emergency. I perceive a strong hatred exists against this force, which is carefully cherished by all the reformers; and if, unfortunately, we should require their services, the probability is, that in discharging their duty they would lay the foundation of perpetual heartburnings and animosity.' p. 37.
'This meeting passed off in perfect peace and quiet. (p. 38.) And another, much more numerous, was announced for the 20th of September. At one time 20,000 persons were present; but the Mayor observed, that as these consisted, of the idle + and curious, as well as the mischievous,' they, 'not finding attractions for them, began, with the women and children, early to retire; and, before the business was despatched, the numbers were reduced as low as at the last meeting, not exceeding 4 or 5000.' It is important to observe, that the account of this assemblage most closely resembles that of the famous Manchester meeting. Large bodies came from a distance; they marched in regular order; and they had bands and flags: But the Mayor was satisfied with having the constables, watch and patrole in readiness; he desired the troops to remain close in their
quarters until they were wanted; and the day was passed in perfect tranquillity.
Another Magistrate, who appears' by exaggerating the numbers to be a great alarmist, states that the Halifax meeting, held on the same subject, October 4th, dispersed without any further disturbance than three or four of the ale-houses be ing full of people drinking after eight o'clock, the hour at which his Worship had ordered them to be closed, so that he was obliged to have them cleared by the constables by force.' (p. 40.) — the people (adds he) showing the worst possible spirit;'-of which the cause is pretty manifest. According to this sagacious gentleman, more than 50,000 were assembled,
+ This word is, by an odd mistake, printed • vile'-a word, we suppose, which many an alarmist builds upon in his argument.
and all, except a few thousands, from a distance :--but he did not see and count as the Mayor of Leeds did, who thereby reduced his estimate to two-fifths of the Rumours. • This place the concludes seems to have been well selected, being destitute of defence.' (p. 41.) Then it will naturally be asked, what operations did the Enemy undertake? The place had been happily selected; there were no means of resistance but a few constables; and these were engaged in the very obnoxious and irritating work of clearing the alehouses, by force of this Magistrate's Curfew Law. Never could the Radical army be expected to muster in greater force than 50,000 on one point, and in more advantageous circumstances. Why then did they gain no victory? Of course they must at least have made some attempt, and been defeated by a special providence, where • human means were none.' No such thing—They all dispersed quietly; and the only reason given for their not overpowering the constables, is" - a heavy rain which fell most fortunately, and drove home those who came from the country,': that is, between forty and fifty thousand Radical troops ! Truly, if that force yields to such resistance, our powder and shot may well be saved for more stubborn antagonists. Now, it is not a little remarkable, that the Magistrate who gave this alarming account, and whose terrors were communicated so rapidly to others, without any pause being allowed for reason to operate, was far from being a person of the highest consideration; he had been liberated from the County Jail, under the Insolvent Act, and had been sued, successfully, for the penalties, in consequence of having acted without having the qualifications required by law,-circumstances, no doubt, unknown to those who acted upon his written information, but which must have come out before any Committee that examined him, and which certainly would have somewhat shaken his credit.
The evidence relating to Cheshire, presents few points for consideration. It consists almost entirely of very general Reports from the Magistracy, expressive of their apprehensions for the peace of the county, from the discontents prevailing there and in the neighbouring districts; together with a letter from the Postmaster of Macclesfield, describing a riot two nights after the Manchester Meeting, and one from the Clerk of the Peace, shortly stating the atrocious attempt to kill Birch the Constable-an act worthy of all detestation, but plainly the deed of some desperate individual, and not shown, or even alleged, to have been the result of any concert whatever, much less to have had the least connexion with the Reform Meetings. The men, tion of it in these Papers, however, was sure to have some ef