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Chartism Test Questions: 4

Lord John Russell had to state that throughout the period alluded to, which had been a most anxious one, the Government had not been unmindful of what was going on; but he had thought that it was better to rely on the existing law than to come down to that House for other measures, without a positive and imperious necessity for doing so, because the object of the persons influencing the minds of the people, and inciting them to arm, were so clearly mischievous - so many of their acts so clearly exposed them so the penalties of the law, that it was impassible that they could meet with any general sympathy. He had always found, however, that when extraordinary measures were taken in Parliament in such a case, a sympathy was created, and a jealousy excited with regard to the constitution, which ought not so be suspended without absolute necessity. Still he was not prepared to say, that it might not be necessary to propose some measure to Parliament with regard to arms in the hands of evil-disposed persons. 

He was of opinion, however, that when the necessity arose it would be far better to introduce the measure at once, and to ask Parliament to direct its immediate and unceasing attention to the subject than to give a long notice with respect to it; or, after having brought it forward, to postpone its further consideration for a considerable time. 

With regard to the measures already taken, he must say that on two occasions, when her Majesty's Ministers had advised her Majesty to issue proclamations regarding meetings of an illegal character, meetings held by night with torches under circumstances of danger and terror, and meetings which were attended by persons having pikes and bludgeons, each time those proclamations were issued the most salutary effects had been produced. 

He felt most undoubtedly that the responsibility was very great in taking measures to arrest, and if possible to repress, the disposition to disturbance that had been exhibited. The subject had been a frequent matter of consultation between himself and the Attorney- general, and he had likewise frequently brought the question before the Cabinet; and it appeared to him that the course adopted, and the views taken with respect to the general state of the country, were more likely ultimately to produce a return to peace, than if the Government had at once proposed measures of an extraordinary description.

Sir H. Verney wished, in reference to the subject which the noble Lord had now brought forward, to ask whether it was his intention in the course of the present session to introduce any measure for the establishment of a more effective rural police: He thought such a measure would be calculated to give great satisfaction to the country.

from Hansard's report of Parliamentary debates, 15 May 1839


  1. According to Source for what reasons did Lord John refuse, to ask for special legislation?
  2. What special measures might he have been expected to have sought?
  3. What evidence does the source supply that the government took the Chartist threat very seriously?
  4. How was the suggestion of Sir H. Verney taken up?
  5. What deductions about the nature of the Chartist threat can be made from Lord John's speech?
  6. In 1830-1 Melbourne had been very severe against the "Swing Riots" and order had quickly been restored. In the light of subsequent events how justified was Lord John in rejecting a similar course of action?
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