Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

in many of these districts particular causes of distress have no doubt operated to expose the minds of the labouring classes of the community to irritation and perversion, yet they are persuaded that this distress must for the most part be considered rather as the instrument than as the cause of disaffection. In some of the places where these practices have prevailed, they believe the want of employment to have been less felt than in many other parts of the kingdom; while in other places, where the pressure has been perhaps most grievous, it has certainly been sustained with a spirit of patience, loyalty, and good order, which cannot be too highly commended. And your

committee cannot refrain from expressing their opinion, that it is chiefly by the means pointed out in the report of the former committee, by the widely extended circulation of seditious and blasphemous publications, and by the effect of inflammatory discourses continually renewed, that this spirit has been principally excited and diffused. By these the attachment to our established government and constitution, and the respect for law, morality; and religion, have gradually been weakened among those whose situations most exposed them to this destructive influence; and it is thus that their minds have been prepared for the adoption of designs and measures no less injurious to their own interests and happiness than to those of every other class of his majesty's subjects.

Since the period of the former report, Manchester and its neighbourhood have (as far as your

committee has seen) been the only places where meetings have been convened and assembled sufficiently numerous to create immediate apprehensions for the public tranquillity. At a meeting which was convened there on the 3rd of March for the purpose of petitioning against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, and where several thousand persons appear to have been assembled, it was proposed and agreed to that another meeting should be held on the following Monday, viz. the 10th of March, with the professed intention that ten out of every twenty persons who should attend it should proceed to London with a petition to his royal highness the Prince Regent.

The interval was employed in almost daily meetings of the disaffected, which were numerously attended. The real intentions of

the leaders were there developed to their followers in speeches of the most undisguised violence. One of them avowed that he was a republican and a leveller, and would never give up the cause till a republican form of government was established. The people were told by others, that if their petition was rejected, they must force it: that the large towns in Yorkshire were adopting the same plan, and would meet them on the road, or at least march at the same time to London that there was reason to believe that the Scotch were then on their march: that they should be one hundred thousand strong, when joined by the people of other manufacturing places upon the road; and that it would be impossible for the army or any thing else to resist them. [F 2]

These

These speakers appear in a few instances to have been checked by some of their associates, but their sentiments were for the most part received with strong marks of applause and concurrence.

Arrangements for the march were also pointed out at these meetings. It was recommended to those who intended to join in it to provide themselves with blankets, shoes, and knapsacks, as well as with money and food. Those who remained to work were to assist with their subscriptions. Every ten men were to choose one for a leader; and one was to be set over every hundred. Strong intimations were also given of the propriety and necessity of their providing themselves with arms; but these do not appear to have been acted upon, except perhaps in a few instances.

On the 10th of March the proposed meeting took place, to the amount, as is supposed, of from 10,000 to 12,000 persons at the least. Although some of their leaders had been previously arrested, and others were apprehended on the spot, the purpose was not abandoned; and large numbers of these deluded people marched off towards London.

A considerable body of them was stopped on the road to Stockport: some hundreds are stated to have passed through Leek: and one party proceeded as far as Ashbourne; but the activity of the magistrates in dispersing the meeting, and in stopping the progress of these bodies, effectually prevented the execution of a design, which could not probably have failed to disturb the peace of the counties through which so nụ.

merous an assemblage was to have passed; and which, if prosecuted to its full extent, must have led to consequences highly dangerous to the public tranquillity.

The discomfiture of this attempt does not, however, appear to have materially discouraged those who had planned it: their measures were uninterruptedly pursued. Within a very short time after this failure, fresh meetings were held in smaller numbers; they were composed, either wholly or in part, of delegates from the neighbourhood of Manchester, from the borders of Derbyshire, and fron. the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire. At some of these meetings reports were made of the quantity of pikes, or firelocks, and of bullets which could be provided for the intended rising. Communications were held about this time with Nottingham, Sheffield, and Birmingham, by delegates, who were to give intelligence of the plans in contemplation, to excite the people of those places to similar attempts, and to ascertain the state of preparation to which they had advanced. In these proceedings the pretence of parliamentary reform appears to have been almost wholly discarded; they evidently point to nothing short of revolution; and it affords a dreadful proof of the extent to which the minds of many of those who attended these meetings have been inflamed and corrupted, that in public speeches the necessity of doing away with, or disposing of (as they term it), the persons most obnoxious to them, has often been openly and unreservedly announced; and that on one occasion it is stated to have

been

been proposed, that Manchester should be made a Moscow, for the purpose of strengthening their cause, by throwing numbers of people out of employment.

It was on the night of the 30th of March that a general insurrection was intended to have commenced at Manchester. The magistrates were to be seized; the prisoners were to be liberated; the soldiers were either to be surprised in their barracks, or a certain number of factories were to be set on fire, for the purpose of drawing the soldiers out of their barracks, of which a party stationed near them for that object were then to take possession with the view of seizing the magazine.

The signal for the commencement of these proceedings was to be, the firing of a rocket or rockets; and hopes were held out that 2,000 or 3,000 men would be sufficient to accomplish the first object, and that the insurgents would be 50,000 strong in the morning.

At this period, and in other parts of these proceedings, there are traces of an intention to issue proclamations, declaring the king's subjects absolved from their allegiance, and denouncing death against all opposers; but the committee have not found any evidence of the actual preparation of such proclamations.

This atrocious conspiracy was detected by the vigilance of the magistrates, and defeated by the apprehension and confinement of some of the ringleaders a few days before the period fixed for its execution. The timely prevention of this desperate attempt appears to have given a considerable check

to the proceedings of the disaffected in that quarter; and all the subsequent intelligence which the committee has seen from thence continues to be of a more favourable character.

During part of the month of April an intermission appears indeed to have taken place generally, at least of the more open proceedings. Public meetings in large bodies could no longer be convened, except under the regulations of the recent act of parliament. Numerous meetings of societies have been less frequently held in public-houses. In some districts clubs have been dissolved; in others their meetings have been suspended, or have been held in private houses, or in places remote from observation. The necessity of greater caution has been felt and inculcated; communications by writing have been discountenanced; the concealment of the names of leading persons has been recommended; and it has been thought better that a few persons only should be intrusted with their plans, and should give notice to the different delegates to have their partizans in readiness to act when required and as directed. These delegates appointed from various places have met in small numbers, and thus kept up a general but verbal correspondence among the disaffected.

Towards the end of April, and during the month of May, this correspondence appears to have been carried on with increased activity. As early as the fifth of that month a meeting is stated to have been held in one of the principal towns of the west riding of Yorkshire, and to have been at

tended

tended by persons calling themselves delegates from other principal towns of that district; and also from Leicester, from Birmingham, and from Nottingham. At this meeting reports were made by the different delegates of the strength which could be collected from the districts which they represented. The numbers were stated as very large; but the committee are well aware of the exaggeration to be expected in such cases. It was about this time that the period for another ge eral rising appears to have been fixed for as early a day as possible after the discussion of an expected motion for reform in Parliament. Nottingham appears to have been intended as the headquarters upon which a part of the insurgents were to march in the first instance. They were expected to be joined there, and on their march towards London, by other bodies with such arms as they might have already provided, or might procure by force from private houses, or from the different depôts or barracks of which the attack was proposed.

At various subsequent meetings at different places, reports are stated to have been made of a great increase of numbers, so great that it was said on one occasion that they were obliged daily to extend their divisions, and enlarge their committee.

Concurrent information from many of the quarters from whence these delegates were said to be deputed, confirms the expectation of a general rising about the time above mentioned, and states its subsequent postponement to the ninth or tenth of June, for which various reasons were assigned.

The latest intelligence from those quarters had made it highly probable that the same causes which have hitherto thwarted the execution of these desperate designs, viz. the vigilance of government-the great activity and intelligence of the magistrates—the ready assistance afforded under their orders by the regular troops and yeomanry-the prompt and efficient arrangements of the officers entrusted with that service— the knowledge which has from time to time been obtained of the plans of the disaffected, and the consequent arrest and confinement of the leading agitators, would occasion a still further postponement of their atrocious plans. Subsequent intelligence leaves no doubt that the plan, in its full extent, has for the present been frustrated; but the correctness of the information which had previously been obtained has been confirmed by the recent appearance of bodies of men in arms at the precise period which is stated to have been fixed upon, and particularly in one of the districts, which had latterly been represented as determined to act without waiting for a general insurrection.

The committee think it highly important to state, that the reports received from many of the most active magistrates, and from persons whose stations, both civil and military, have enabled them to collect the most extensive information, and to form the most accurate judgment as to the state of the country, concur in attributing in a very considerable degree the disappointment of the attempts already made, and the hopes of continued tranquillity, to

the

the actual exercise of the powers which parliament has entrusted to the executive government, and to the effect of the known existence of such powers ready to be called into action when necessity requires it,-and in representing the danger which would threaten the country were those powers to be withdrawn at the present moment. And the committee feel that they should ill discharge the trust reposed in them if they did not declare their own entire agreement in this opinion. With the fullest confidence in the general loyalty and good disposition, not only of those portions of the kingdom which have hitherto remained in a great degree untainted, but of by far the most considerable part of those very districts which are the chief scenes of the operations of the disaffected-a confidence which very recent experience has satisfactorily confirmed-they cannot refrain from submitting to your lordships, as the result of all the information they have received, that the time is not yet arrived when the maintenance of the public tranquillity, and the protection of the lives and properties of his majesty's subjects, can be allowed to rest upon the ordinary powers of the law.

The order of the day for continuing the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act being read on the 16th of June in the House of Lords, Lord Sidmouth rose, and after mentioning that the ministers of the crown had been disappointed in their hope of closing the operation of the bill with the session of parliament, and had thought it necessary to propose a new enquiry, he went over the several facts

which had been reported to the committee, and had induced them to lay their discoveries before the House. Having descanted upon the accumulated proofs that there still subsisted very dangerous designs in different parts of the country, he said, that all which he asked was the adoption of the measure now proposed, if their lordships would agree with him in thinking it essential for the preservation of the constitution. In those places where the schemes of the conspirators had been most advanced, the act had been put in execution, and the leaders were in custody, by which means their atrocious designs were defeated; and government had received information from Manchester and other places, that they should greatly deplore the withdrawing of these powers at the time they were most wanted. His lordship concluded with moving, that the bill for continuing the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act be now read a second time,

Lord Erskine asked, What were the causes of that disturbed state of the country which was the subject of the first report, and of the renewed one now before them? The causes were manifest in the universal distresses of all classes of people from the stagnation of trade and manufactures, increased and embittered by a devouring revenue; and in the direction of the public mind under the pressure of such calamities, because the people in their turns, when looking to the removal of such distresses, examined the cause of them, which they attributed to their not having that share in the public councils which they thought themselves

« AnteriorContinuar »