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The Holiday-Insurrection

Leeds Mercury, 20 August 1842

Our columns are filled with particulars of the strangest and wildest Holiday-Insurrection that has ever been attempted; an Insurrection conducted in the name of 'Peace, law and order!' - an Insurrection the most extensive, yet in some respects the most harmless, known in the modern history of England; an Insurrection more foolish than wicked in the dupes who have caught the contagion, but we fear much more wicked than foolish in the leaders who planned it.

As this unparalleled movement, though effectually checked, is not yet over, our first remark upon it, addressed firmly and fearlessly to all classes, is this, that LAW AND ORDER MUST BE MAINTAINED.

Be the cause of the Insurrection what it may, be its real or alleged object what it may, be its extenuations what they may, yet for the sake of all that is dear to us, for the sake of our trade and our institutions, to save the working classes themselves from plunging into irremediable ruin, and to prevent the very foundations of society from being torn up, at all hazards and at all cost, LAW AND ORDER MUST BE MAINTAINED.

If any class is so deplorably ignorant as to imagine that they are observing Law and Order whilst they are ranging the country, forcibly putting a stop to industry, crippling the first movement of every mill and every workshop, driving the workmen from their labour and preventing the masters from making use of their own lawful property, and all this for the avowed purpose of overawing the Government, and compelling it to change the Constitution; if, we say, any class is so deplorably ignorant as to think that acts like these are justifiable, are honest, and consistent with the existence either of Freedom or of Peace; if they think that the Terror inspired, the Tyranny exercised, and the immense Danger incurred, may be excused because the authors of these acts do not commit wholesale destruction, rapine, and bloodshed; however we may commiserate such ignorance, it is necessary for every friend of his country to exclaim with a voice of earnest warning and indignant reprehension, that LAW AND ORDER MUST BE MAINTAINED.

WITHOUT Law and Order, Industry must perish, and then what will become of the industrious classes?

WITHOUT Law and Order Might must prevail over Right; and then what will become of the feeblest classes and individuals?

THOSE who reject Law and Order throw away their only protection, and put everything to the last, worst arbiter - THE SWORD.

WHAT other appeal is left, when the Law has been openly and flagrantly outraged!

UNLESS Government is to abdicate its functions, and leave the nation to all the horrors of Anarchy, it must use the only instrument that remains after the sceptre of Law has been snatched out of its hands.

ANARCHY is the most pitiless of all tyrants, the most desolating and undiscriminating of all destroyers, and the history of this and of many other countries proves that to escape from the intolerable evil of Anarchy, nations will run eagerly into the arms of Despotism.

OUR conviction is that the real cause of the present Insurrection is long-continued, wide-spread, gnawing Distress, Distress which we commiserate without whole hearts, and which we have most strenuously laboured to prevent or to cure; but by the destruction of Law and Order that Distress will be immensely aggravated.

A great number of the working classes, listening to the counsel of leaders who are unworthy of confidence, have got into their heads two delusions, viz: first, that their distress would be cured by reconstructing the Constitution and Government on the principles of the Charter; and second, that the Charter can be carried by attempting a general cessation from Labour!

We will not at present argue the first of these positions - (it is unnecessary, for, alas! the present infatuated movement tells more than all the reasons ever adduced against Universal Suffrage), but, supposing, for argument's sake, that the Charter were a perfect panacea for all the ills of the nation, still it is a complete and silly delusion to imagine that the Charter could be carried by attempting a general cessation from labour. We say so for these reasons.

THEREFORE, a greater delusion was never practised by wicked and designing men, than to tell the working classes that they could carry the Charter by a peaceful Holiday Insurrection.

The country may indeed be ranged over and great numbers of workmen may be turned out - but do not the authors of these acts see, that their apparent success is owing to the very circumstances which infallibly ensure their ultimate failure? Their entire want of cohesion, their going without weapons, and their abstinence from all but one act of violence at each mill, enable them often to elude the soldiery and the police, and to get into towns and into mill unawares: they also prevent the masters from having any great apparent interest in resisting them and further, they blind the workmen to the real danger of this lawless movement. But that same want of cohesion, that want of any tangible and visible form of insurrection, render their operations as evanescent as they were surprising. It would be as rational to try to make a sword of quicksilver, as to make a permanently formidable body of such materials as these. And if the turn-outs were to change their character, and to form a rebel army, no sooner would they be thus brought to a head than they would be utterly demolished. Again, the masters who submit quietly to the driving in of a boiler plug, would act in a very different manner if their property was threatened with serious and extensive mischief. And the workmen, who thoughtlessly turn out to join in this apparently harmless experiment, would revolt from any project of open rebellion, destruction or rapine.

We rejoice to perceive - and we mention it to the credit of the bulk of the turn-outs - that there has been so wonderful an abstinence from all violence but that required to suspend labour. They have not injured machinery, nor damaged work, nor plundered counting-houses or warehouses. In Lancashire and Yorkshire at least, the mischief done by so extensive an insurrection is incredibly small and the absence of all cruelty, of all malice, and of all rapine (except in some cases a kind of half-begging, half-taking, to supply the immediate cravings of hungers) is one of the most astonishing things we ever knew, and speaks well for the hearts of a population who have suffered so much distress.

BUT what shall we say of the hearts of those leaders who have devised this deep scheme? They must have known the utter impossibility of a whole population continuing harmless without employment and without food. They invented the 'Sacred Month' as a thing which it was safe for themselves personally to recommend, but which, unless they were born fools, they must have foreseen would lead to an explosion. The time when the 'Sacred Month' was originally devised was, it will be remembered, a time when the Chartists were known to be arming, when the most inflammatory speeches were made daily and nightly by the demagogues in Lancashire, Birmingham, Glasgow, and London, when MR O'CONNOR went to Birmingham, to defend in open debate "Physical Force" against "Moral Force". At that time a 'Sacred Month' would have been still more perilous than it is now. But at any time it must bring the nation into imminent hazard. It is like laying trails of gunpowder round a fire, and drawing them at every circle, nearer and nearer. And whilst the turn-outs deserve praise for their abstinence from the grosser kinds of violence and outrage, we tell then that, unless the plan of suspending all industry is abandoned, a few weeks must bring them into the midst of inconceivable crimes and horrors.

THE EFFECTS of this mad Insurrection will be not to improve the condition of the Operatives, but to deteriorate it, not to extend Liberty, but to contract it. Those Effects will certainly be
1st To deprive the Working Classes of many hundred thousand pounds in wages.
2nd To blight the prospects which we had, after four years of distress, of a revival in Trade.
3rd Consequently, to stop up the only source from which improved wages can naturally, surely, or permanently flow.
4th To deter Capitalists from investing their money in manufacturing establishments and to induce others to withdraw their capital from trade.
5th To throw hundreds of misguided persons into gaol, and their families upon the parish.
6th To dispose Government to increase the standing army, to place troops in every town and within reach of every considerable village, and thus to convert our manufacturing districts, so long and happily free from military display, into huge barracks, at a great cost to the public.
7th To compel magistrates greatly to increase the number of the police and to make stricter police regulations.
8th Possibly to induce the passing of new laws or the more rigid enforcement of old ones, against the liberty of the subject and of the press.
9th Probably to drive many Liberals into the arms of that party which will hold the reins of government with the strongest hand.
10th To discountenance all reform and all liberty, and to put further off the repeal of the Corn Laws.
THAT these will be the effects of this insurrectionary movement, no man who has any knowledge of History can doubt. We know that many men of Ultra Liberal opinions feel quite certain that these consequences will follow.

The conduct of Parliament, in refusing to repeal the Corn Laws, had greatly increased the number of Chartists. Now the conduct of the working classes will produce just the opposite effect, and greatly increase the number of Tories. Thus the faults of either party play the game of the opposite party, moderate, mild, constitutional, and truly Liberal principles suffer on both sides; and men of weak judgments or strong feelings rush to the opposite extremes. We speak impartially here - for no power on earth, we believe, can shake our own attachment to Liberty in its true spirit and in its best-guarded form, the English Constitution, a Constitution which restricts the prerogative of the Crown as much as it restrains popular licentiousness, a Constitution, which, though not perfect, is more nearly so than any other form of government, a Constitution which gives more practical freedom and security to person, to opinion, and to the press, than the most absolute democracy, and a Constitution which is susceptible of never ending improvement and adaptation to the state of the people.

With these views and principles, we say to the Turn-Outs, Hasten, Oh! hasten to abandon your lawless and most dangerous position, for the sake of your beloved families who are dependent upon you, for the sake of your own lives, liberty, reputation, and permanent interest, for the sake of the young, to whom this movement acts a perilous example, for the sake of our trade abroad and at home, for the sake of our political freedom, for the sake of that "peace, law, and order" which you inscribe on your banner, and thus confess to be all-important, even at the moment when you practically violate them - for the sake of humanity and religion, which would be outraged by civil strife on every account, hasten to abandon the attitude of insurrection, and to put yourselves again under the standard and under the shield of the Law!

Even now, the movement is dying away at the points where it appeared most formidable. The irruption has passed over us like a summer torrent, which in a few hours runs itself dry. At Manchester all is tranquil, and the masters are more willing to wait than the men. At Rochdale, the men declare that they don't care for the Charter, they want wages. At Bradford, all the mills are at work, and the men are eager to dissociate themselves from the turn-outs. At Huddersfield and Halifax industry is resumed. At Leeds all the mills are going except the flax mills, where it is the interests of the masters, but not of the workmen, to stand. Throughout all Yorkshire and Lancashire, a wage-less Saturday night will bring a craving Monday morn.

The manufacturing towns are bristling with bayonets and gleaming with sabres and cutlasses. Sight hateful to the lover of peace and liberty, but which under present circumstances is hailed with delight even for the sake of that peace and liberty! Defeat and shame are attending, and must always attend, the Violators of the law. A sad retribution awaits many hundreds of them, who have been taken into custody.

The Magistrates, so far as we have seen, have every where done their duty with admirable spirit, firmness, and promptitude, and with a total oblivion of party feeling.

The Government has done its duty by placing the DUKE OF WELLINGTON at the head of the army, and sending down powerful bodies of troops into the disturbed districts.

Now let the Working Class do their duty, by speedily repairing the effort into which they have been led, as it were by the spread of a contagion, and without seeing its real character and tendency. Let them resume their habits of lawful, peaceful, honourable industry, and regain the character which English operatives have long borne, of the best workmen in the world. Let them ever act on the conviction that good wages will naturally and necessarily attend good trade, but that neither wages nor trade can be forced. And for all political ameliorations that may yet be needed, let them be left to the influence of reason, of discussion, of opinion, and of the press, and never sought in the paths of lawless violence.


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