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The view of a soldier on Chartist activity in the north of England

from the diaries of Sir Charles Napier

March 1839

We have force to overthrow the Chartists. They have seemingly no organisation, no leaders, and a strong tendency to turn rebellion into money, for pikes costing a shilling are sold for three and sixpence.

25 July 1839

The Chartists say they will keep the sacred month [a general strike]. Egregious folly! They will do no such thing; the poor cannot do it, they must plunder and then they will be hanged by hundreds; they will split upon it, but if mad enough to attempt it, they are lost.

6 August 1839

The plot thickens. Meetings increase and are so violent, and arms so abound, I know not what to think. The Duke of Portland tells me there is no doubt of an intended general rising. Poor people! They will suffer. They have set all England against them and their physical force: - fools! We have the physical force, not they. They talk of their hundred thousands of men. Who is to move them when I am dancing round them with cavalry; and pelting them with cannonshot? What would their 100,000 men do with my 100 rockets wriggling their fiery tails among them, roaring, scorching, tearing, smashing all they came near? And when in desperation and despair they broke to fly, how would they bear five regiments of cavalry careering through them? Poor men! How little they know of physical force!

6 January 1840

The Chartists have what they call rockets, which they believe will, if thrust into a window, blow the roof off a house. Their arms are chiefly pistols and they have cast a vast quantity of balls. Their plan is to attack the middle classes and reduce them to the same state of poverty with themselves. They have no fear of the soldiers, because they mean to go about in small parties of fives and sixes according to their classes and sections, with their arms hidden and so as not to attract attention by their numbers. ... The moment any Chartist is convicted, whether it be Frost or any other, this warfare is to begin and all labour instantly to cease ...

12 January 1840

Patrolled all last night. Saw the Chartist sentinels in the streets; we knew they were armed with pistols, but I advised the magistrates not to meddle with them. Seizing these men could do no good; it would not stop Chartism if they were all hanged; and as they offered no violence, why starve their wretched families and worry them with a long imprisonment? I repeat it, Chartism cannot be stopped. God forbid that it should: what we want is to stop the letting loose a large body of armed cut-throats upon the public.

Sir William Napier, Life of General Sir Charles Napier

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