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X.

1819.

28.

duct of Lord

on the occasion,

CHAP. spiring to alter the law by force and threats; and several

men were wounded by a discharge from the foot-soldiers, when violently assailed by the mob when conveying the prisoners to jail.

Lord Sidmouth, to whom, as Home Secretary, the first Noble con- intelligence of this unhappy affair was sent, acted in the Sidmouth'd noblest manner on the occasion. Perceiving at once that

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 concur-
rence 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 sup-
port 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 Sidmouth, iii. 262.

” utmost vehemence at the time, earned the support of all men really acquainted with the necessary action of govern

*“ The Prince-Regent desires 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 sense 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 Sidmouth's Life, iii. 262.

1819.

29.

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Hunt's trial.

ment in a popular community, as it must command the CHAP. admiration of every right-thinking man in all time com- – ing. *

The generosity of Lord Sidmouth's conduct is wholly irrespective of the real merits of the conduct of the ma- Result of gistracy on this occasion ; nay, it becomes greater, if, 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 get 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 Hunt, &c., were carried into full execution. The verdicts of the i coroner's inquest on the persons killed in the Manchester

Trials; Ann. affray were of such a kind as amounted to casual death, Reg: 1020,

, 819; App. or justifiable homicide, with the exception of one, which, to Chron. after having been long protracted, was quashed by the 147. Court of King's Bench on the ground of irregularity,

of the at York,

March 16, Wotor 1820, State

and Chron.

*"To attack the executive for supporting the magistracy on such an occasion, appears to me 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, iii. 263.

х

1819.

on the im

allowing

CHAP. from the coroner not having, with the jury, inspected the

body, as by law directed. *

The judgment of these bigh authorities leaves no room 30. Reflections for doubt as to the illegality of the meeting at Manchester policy of" by the English law; and very little reflection is required such meets to show that it was a proceeding of such a kind as in ings.

no well-regulated community should now be tolerated. · So long, indeed, as the great majority of the manu

facturing 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 illegal one." -Parl. Deb., 230 Nov. 1819 ; HANSARD, xli. 38. This is undoubtedly true; 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 in whom? 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 ; ng 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 become so imminent that a tolerable unanimity of witnesses may be hoped for before orders to act are given.

X.

ctually the ind. In all ove in use

trates.

cal numbers, not their intellectual strength, that they CHAP. hope to gain their object. As such, they tend to uproot

1819. the very foundations of government, which must always be laid in the loyalty and submission of the great body of the people. They are always on the edge of violence, if they do not actually commence it ; and if they are not actually treasonable, they may be rendered such at no distant period. In all considerable towns in the empire, where such meetings are in use to be held, there are rooms capable of holding at least as many as can possibly hear the speakers; the press will next morning convey their sentiments to the whole nation ; and if the display of numbers is desired, the petition or resolutions agreed to may be presented to Parliament, supported by a million of signatures. The conduct of the magistrates on this unhappy occa

31. sion, though not illegal, appears to have been more open and on the

1. conduct of to exception in point of prudence; and though properly the magisand courageously approved of by the Government at the time, it should by no means be followed on similar occasions. They had not issued any proclamation before, warning the meeting that its object was illegal, and that it would be dispersed by force ; nor, indeed, could such a proclamation have been issued, as the avowed object of the meeting to petition for a reform in Parliament was legal. The banners carried, though in some instances inflammatory and dangerous, could hardly be called, upon the whole, seditious. “God save the King," and “Rule Britannia,” had been played by the bands without any signs of disapprobation from the meeting ; and though they had in part marched in military array, they had no arms except a few pikes, had numbers of women and children among them, and had attempted no outrage or act of violence. They had not commenced the proceedings when the dispersion began, so that nothing had been said on the spot to justify it. The Riot Act had been read from the window where the magistrates

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1819.

CHAP. were, but the hour required to justify the dispersion of

a peaceable assembly had not elapsed. The highest authorities have taught us that the meeting was illegal, from its menacing and dangerous character ; but the point is, was it expedient at the moment, when no warning had been given of its illegality, to disperse it by force ?* True, the warrant to arrest Hunt and his friends could not be executed but by military force; but where was the necessity of executing it at all in the presence of the multitude ? Could they not have been observed by the police, and arrested in the evening, or at night, after they had dispersed, when no tumult or disorder was to be apprehended ? Had the crowd proceeded to acts of violence or depredation, they could not have been too quickly or vigorously charged by the military; but while yet pacific and orderly, and when no seditious resolutions had been proposed, they at least were innocent, whatever their leaders may have been. In a word, the conduct of the magistrates, though legal, seems to have been ill-judged, and their measures inexpedient. But great allowance must be made for unprofessional men suddenly placed in such

trying circumstances; and as their error, if error there Parl. Deb. was, was one of judgment only, there can be but one xli. 365, 369, opinion on the noble and intrepid course which Govern

ment pursued on the occasion.1 +

* Lord Eldon appears, at first at least, to have been of this opinion, for he wrote to his brother, Sir William Scott, soon after hearing of it: “Without all doubt the Manchester magistrates must be supported; but they are very generally blamed here. For my part, I think if the assembly was only an unlawful assembly, that task will be difficult enough in sound reasoning. If the meeting was an overt act of high treason, their justification was complete.” He then goes on to say he thought it was an overt act of treason.-Lord ELDON to Sir W. Scott ; Eldon's Life, ii. 338.

* In truth, in all such cases, what the magistrate has chiefly to consider is, not what is, strictly speaking, legal merely, but what will bear the efforts of misrepresentation and the ordeal of public opinion. Many things are legal which must often not be attempted by those intrusted with authority ; many things illegal, in those subjected to it, which must yet be sometimes tolerated. The following rules to guide the magistrate in such difficult circumstances may perhaps be of use to those who are liable to be called on to act under them, and have been the result of some experience and much reflection on the part of the author : Ist. If a meeting, evidently treasonable or seditious, or obviously tend

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