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Chap. stables was sworn in, and, armed with their batons, surx' rounded the hustings where the speakers were to be placed.
1819. The avowed object of the first proposed meeting, which Great ex- had been called by regular advertisement, was to elect "a andTMbjMta representative and legislatorial attorney" to represent the of the meet- c|tv of Manchester, as had already been done at Birmingham, Stockport, Leeds, and other places. This meeting was called for the 9 th August; but as the magistrates, feeling such an object to be illegal, had intimated it would be dispersed, the next or adjourned meeting, which was called for the 16th, was simply to petition for a reform in Parliament. Drilling had been practised in many places in all the country round; and large bodies of men had met on the hills between Lancashire and Yorkshire, in the grey of the morning, to go through their evolutions, though without having any arms. The consequence was, that they marched into Manchester from every direction for thirty miles around, six abreast, with bands of music and colours flying. On these were inscribed, " No Corn Laws;" " Annual Parliaments;" "Universal Suffrage;" "Vote by Ballot;" " Equal Representation or Death ;" "Liberty or Death;" " God armeth the Patriot"—with a figure of Wallace. Two bands of female reformers were among them, one numbering 150 members, with light-blue silk flags : they added much to the interest and iLifeofa excitement of the scene. Mr Hunt was the person who w'sai;"' was to address the multitude, and before he arrived on ,"?$n*3o' tne ground was computed that 60,000 persons were Life of Lord assembled, chiefly from places around Manchester, a large
Sidmouth, .' i . i ,
iii.254,258. proportion, as usual m such cases, being women, and not a few children.1
2? The magistrates of Manchester, deeming such a meeting iu disjier- for such an object to be illegal, resolved to prevent it by military, arresting Mr Hunt, its avowed leader, before the proceedings had begun. He arrived about noon in an open carriage, and made his way with some difficulty to the hustings erected on the centre of the ground, amidst cheers
which rent the air. A warrant was immediately made Chap. out to arrest him, and put into the hands of Mr Nadin, the chief constable, with orders to execute it immediately. He declared, however, that he could not do so; which was evidently the case, as the crowd was so dense that it was physically impossible to force a passage through the throng up to the hustings. Upon this they directed the military to be called up to clear the way—and notes were despatched to the commanders of the yeomanry and the military to advance to the support of the civil officers who were to execute the warrant. The Manchester yeomanry were nearest at hand, and, coming up, adopted the unlucky resolution of advancing two by two at a walk. A loud shout was set up when they appeared, and as they continued to move on, they were speedily detached from each other, hemmed in, and some of them unhorsed. Upon seeing this, the commanding officer of the hussars said to Mr Hutton, the chief magistrate, " What am I to do \" "Do you not see they are attacking the yeomanry 1—disperse the crowd," was the answer. Upon this the word " Forward" was given; the hussars came up at a trot, and, forming on the edge of the throng, the trumpet sounded the charge, and the horsemen, advancing, wheeled into line, and speedily drove the multitude before them. The dense mass of human beings forced forward was instantly thrown into the most dreadful alarm; numbers were trod down, and some suffocated by the pressure; and although the hussars acted with the utmost forbearance, and struck in general only with the flat side of their sabres, yet four or five persons, including one woman, were pressed to death, and about twenty injured by sabre wounds. About seventy persons in all were more or less , Mem hurt during this unhappy affray, including one special L°"i s'idconstable ridden over by the hussars, and one yeoman ase, 261"' struck from his horse by a stone from the mob.1 Mr "km! Hunt and ten of his friends were arrested and committed, Acc^?*'1 first on a charge of high treason, and afterwards of con
Chap, spiring to alter the law by force and threats ; and several X- men were wounded by a discharge from the foot-soldiers, 1819. when violently assailed by the mob when conveying the prisoners to jail.
Lord Sidraouth, to whom, as Home Secretary, the first Nobi^'con- intelligence of this unhappy affair was sent, acted in the sidmouthrd noblest manner on the occasion. Perceiving at once that aLi'on00" a crisis of no ordinary kind had arrived, and that the conduct of the magistrates in ordering the dispersion of the crowd before any acts of violence had been committed, would be made the subject of unbounded obloquy, and probably great misrepresentation, on the part of the popular press, he at once determined to take his full share of the responsibility connected with it; and accordingly, before there was time to call together the entire Cabinet to deliberate on the subject, he conveyed, with the concurrence of the Prince-Regent, the law-officers of the Crown, and such of the Cabinet as could be hastily got together, the royal approbation for the course pursued on the occasion.* In doing this, he acted on the principle which "he considered an essential principle of government, namely, to acquire the confidence of the magistracy, especially in critical times, by showing a readiness to support them in all honest, reasonable, and well-intended acts, without inquiring too minutely whether they might have performed their duty a little better or a little worse."1 'Life of His conduct on this occasion, though attacked with the iii. 262.' utmost vehemence at the time, earned the support of all men really acquainted with the necessary action of govern
* " The Prince-Regent deBires me to convey to your lordship his approbation and high commendation of the conduct of the magistrates and civil authorities at Manchester, as well as the officers and troops, both regular and yeomanry cavalry, whose firmness and effectual support of the civil powers preserved the peace of the town upon that most critical occasion. His Royal Highness entertains a favourable sonBe of the forbearance of Lieutenant-Colonel L'Estrange in the execution of his duty, and bestows the greatest praise upon the zeal and alacrity manifested by Major Trafford and Lieut-colonel Townsend, and their respective corps. I am, &c. B. Bloomfield.
"To the Lord Viscount Sidmouth." —Lord Sidmouih't Life, iii. 262.
ment in a popular community, as it must command the Chap.
admiration of every right-thinking man in all time com- x'
The generosity of Lord Sidmouth's conduct is wholly irrespective of the real merits of the conduct of the ma- Results gistracy on this occasion; nay, it becomes greater, if, unt 5tri after the act was done, and could not be undone, he voluntarily interposed the shield of his responsibility, to shelter those whose conduct may be considered as open to some exception. Mr Hunt was afterwards indicted, along with Johnson, Moorhouse, and seven others, before the Manchester Grand Jury, for seditious conspiracy, who found true bills against them all. They traversed, in English law phrase—that is, got the trial postponed till the next assizes—in order to give the public effer- April 1820. vescence time to subside; and they were ultimately tried before Mr Justice Bayley at York, and, after a long and most impartial trial, which lasted eleven days, and which Mr Hunt himself had the candour to call "a magnificent specimen of British justice," Hunt, Johnson, Healy, and Bamford, were convicted of conspiracy to-^et up a seditious meeting, and "alter the government by force and threats." The case was afterwards carried to the Court of King's Bench, by which the verdict was affirmed, and Hunt sentenced to two years and a half, the others to one year's imprisonment in Ilchester jail; which sentences Hu"t?&L, were carried into full execution.1 The verdicts of the SJJihV*, coroner's inquest on the persons killed in the Manchester xrf^w affray were of such a kind as amounted to casual death, Hjj; j^o, or justifiable homicide, with the exception of one, which, to^onafter having been long protracted, was quashed by the 147. Court of King's Bench on the ground of irregularity,
* "To attack the executive for supporting the magistracy on such an occasion, appears to uio perfectly senseless. How can it be supposed that any magistrate will act unless assured of support—nay, unless supported with a high hand? Assuredly as the executive shrinks from encouraging, approving, and supporting the magistracy, there will be an end of all subordination."—Lord Sheffield to Lord Sidmouth, Nov. 1,1819; Sidmouth's Life, iil 263.
Chap, from the coroner not having, with the jury, inspected the x' body, as by law directed.*
The judgment of these high authorities leaves no room Reflections for doubt as to the illegality of the meeting at Manchester policy of by the English law; and very little reflection is required ^'cTmeU- to show that it was a proceeding of such a kind as in ing*- no well-regulated community should now be tolerated. So long, indeed, as the great majority of the manufacturing towns and districts were unrepresented in Parliament, there was a plausible—it may be a just—reason assigned for allowing such meetings, that there was no other way in which the people could make known their wishes to the legislature. But since the Reform Act has passed, and every considerable place is fully represented in Parliament, and a legal channel has been provided for the transmission of the popular will to Government, this plea can no longer be advanced. Such meetings are now simply dangerous and pernicious, without being attended with one countervailing advantage. Too large and promiscuous either for deliberation or discussion, they tend only to inflame passion and multiply misrepresentation. Their purpose really is not to express opinion, but to inspire terror; it is by the display of their physi
* Lord Eldon said, in the debates which followed in the House of Lords, "When I read in my law books that numbers constitute force, and force terror, it is impossible to say that the Manchester meeting was not an illegalone." —Pari. Deb., 23d Nov. 1819 ; Hansabd, xli. 38. This is undoubtedly truo; but it may be observed, that it is impossible the law on this point can be on a more unsatisfactory footing, and that it is high time it should be at once defined, by act of Parliament, what is an illegal meeting, independent of actual commenced violence. Who is to be the judge of what inspires terror, and iu whom 1 In a dozen old men or old women, or a dozen intrepid young men? Between these two extremes, infinite diversities of opinion will be found to exist; no two witnesses will agree, no two juries will arrive at the same conclusion. The practical result is, that no man, as the law now stands, can say with certainty what is an illegal meeting; and every magistrate, if he gives orders to disperse it, places himself at the mercy of a subsequent jury, who may be called on to determine whether the circumstances were such as to have inspired terror in a reasonable mind, as to which, it is a mere chance what opinion they form. The only security for the magistrate in such cases is, to wait till the danger has becomo so imminent that a tolerable unanimity of witnesses may bo hoped for before orders to act are given.