Online Library of Liberty

A collection of scholarly works about individual liberty and free markets. A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.

Advanced Search

William Cobbett, Selections from Cobbett’s Political Works, vol. 5 (Political Register Nov. 1816 to April 1820) [1835]

Cobbett 1627 05 tp
Title Page
Cobbett 1627 05 toc
Original Table of Contents or First Page

Edition used:

William Cobbett, Selections from Cobbett’s Political Works: being a complete abridgement of the 100 volumes which comprise the writings of “Porcupine” and the “Weekly political register.” With notes, historical and explanatory. By John M. Cobbett and James P. Cobbett. (London, Ann Cobbett, 1835). 6 vols. Vol. 5.

Available in the following formats:
Facsimile PDF 27.9 MB This is a facsimile or image-based PDF made from scans of the original book.
HTML 2.16 MB This version has been converted from the original text. Every effort has been taken to translate the unique features of the printed book into the HTML medium.
Simplified HTML 2.16 MB This is a simplifed HTML format, intended for screen readers and other limited-function browsers.
ePub 774 KB ePub standard file for your iPad or any e-reader compatible with that format

About this Title:

Volume 5 of a six volume collection. Vol. 5 contains essays from the Political Register between Nov. 1816 to April 1820.

Copyright information:

The text is in the public domain.

Fair use statement:

This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

London: Printed by Mills and Son,

Gough-square Fleet-street.

Edition: current; Page: [iii]


  • To the Journeymen and Labourers of England, Scotland, and Ireland . . . . Page. 1
  • Letter to the Luddites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
  • Letter to the Lord Mayor of London . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
  • Address to the Country Gentlemen. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
  • Call upon the Clergy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
  • A New Year’s Gift to Old George Rose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
  • Address to the Men of Bristol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
  • Address to the Men of Norwich . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104
  • Address to the “Weaver Boys” of Lancashire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
  • Letter to Lord Sidmouth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
  • Letter to the Life-and-Fortune Men . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
  • Letter to the People of Hampshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
  • Letter to Earl Grosvenor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
  • Letter to all True-hearted Englishmen, on the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, the Sedition Bills, &c. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152
  • To the People of Hampshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162
  • To the Good and True Men of Hampshire, on the riotous Proceedings at the Winchester Meeting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169
  • A Letter to the “Deluded People” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175
  • To the Paper-Money Men . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
  • Mr. Cobbett’s Taking Leave of his Countrymen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190
  • A History of the Last Hundred Days of English Freedom, Letter I. . . . . . . 203
  • —————————— Letter II. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
  • —————————— Letter III. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 234
  • —————————— Letter IV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 246
  • —————————— Letter V. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 262
  • —————————— Letter VI. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 275
  • To Major Cartwright, the Venerable Leader of Reform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 290
  • To Earl Fitzwilliam, on what the “Morning Chronicle” calls your “Munificent Donation” to some of the Distressed People of Ireland . . . . . . . . 303
  • Mr. Cobbett’s Petition to the Prince Regent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 320
  • The Petition of Mr. Cobbett to the House of Commons, that Lord Folkestone declined to present . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 331
  • To the Right Hon. George Tierney, on his opposition to the Bank Protecting Act . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 341
  • To Jack Harrow, an English Labourer, on the New Cheat which is now on foot, and which goes under the name of Savings’ Banks . . . . . . . . . . . . 357
  • To the Prince Regent, on the Means by which the Boroughmongers have degraded the King and his Family. Letter I. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 366
  • To the same, on the Dangers to which the Crown may be exposed, by its being identified with those who Traffic in Seats, and in Bribery, Corruption, and Perjury, at a time when a sudden Blowing-up of the Paper-Money shall take place. Letter II. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 376 Edition: current; Page: [iv]
  • To the same, on the means of Preserving the Crown and of Preventing Universal Confusion, in case of a sudden Blowing-up of the Paper-Money. Letter III. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 385
  • To Parson Malthus, on the Rights of the Poor; and on the Cruelty recommended by him to be exercised towards the Poor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 395
  • To Henry James, Esq., Merchant of Birmingham; on his Project for saving the Boroughmongers by making a Shilling pass for Eighteen-pence . . 407
  • To Lord Viscount Folkestone, on the Proceedings in Parliament, during the Session of 1819, relative to the Paper-Money. Letter I. . . . . . . . . . . . . 420
  • To the same, on the same. Letter II. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 433
  • To Sir Robert Peel, Baronet and Cotton-weaver; on the Petition presented by him against the Resolutions, in Parliament, relative to Specie-Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 443
  • To the Earl of Liverpool, on the present State of the Country, and on the Measures proposed to be adopted at the present time. Letter I. . . . . 453
  • To the same, on the Power of Taxation to produce Misery; and on the Speech of Mr. Baring relative to the Taxes, the Paper-Money, and the Funds. Letter II. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 472
  • To the Industrious Classes, on the Causes of the present Poverty and Misery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 487
  • To the Earl of Liverpool, on Mr. Heathfield’s Plan for paying off the National Debt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 495
Edition: current; Page: [1]

Selections from Cobbett’s Political Works


On the Cause of their present Miseries; on the Measures which have produced that Cause; on the Remedies which some foolish and some cruel and insolent Men have proposed; and on the line of Conduct which Journeymen and Labourers ought to pursue, in order to obtain effectual Relief, and to assist in promoting the Tranquillity and restoring the Happiness of their Country.

Friends and Fellow Countrymen,

Whatever the pride of rank, of riches, or of scholarship, may have induced some men to believe, or to affect to believe, the real strength and all the resources of a country, ever have sprung and ever must spring, from the labour of its people; and hence it is, that this nation, which is so small in numbers and so poor in climate and soil compared with many others, has, for many ages, been the most powerful nation in the world: it is the most industrious, the most laborious, and, therefore, the most powerful. Elegant dresses, superb furniture, stately buildings, fine roads and canals, fleet-horses and carriages, numerous and stout ships, warehouses teeming with goods; all these, and many other objects that fall under our view, are so many marks of national wealth and resources. But all these spring from labour. Without the journeyman and the labourer none of them could exist; without the assistance of their hands, the country would be a wilderness, hardly worth the notice of an invader.

As it is the labour of those who toil which makes a country abound in resources, so it is the same class of men, who must, by their arms, secure its safety and uphold its fame. Titles and immense sums of money have been bestowed upon numerous Naval and Military Commanders. Without calling the justice of these in question, we may assert, that the victories were obtained by you and your fathers and brothers and sons, in co-operation with those Commanders, who, with Edition: current; Page: [2] your aid, have done great and wonderful things; but, who, without that aid, would have been as impotent as children at the breast.

With this correct idea of your own worth in your minds, with what indignation must you hear yourselves called the Populace, the Rabble, the Mob, the Swinish Multitude; and with what greater indignation, if possible, must you hear the projects of those cool and cruel and insolent men, who, now that you have been, without any fault of yours, brought into a state of misery, propose to narrow the limits of parish relief, to prevent you from marrying in the days of your youth, or to thrust you out to seek your bread in foreign lands, never more to behold your parents or friends? But suppress your indignation, until we return to this topic, after we have considered the cause of your present misery and the measures which have produced that cause.

The times in which we live are full of peril. The nation, as described by the very creatures of the Government, is fast advancing to that period when an important change must take place. It is the lot of mankind, that some shall labour with their limbs and others with their minds; and, on all occasions, more especially on an occasion like the present, it is the duty of the latter to come to the assistance of the former. We are all equally interested in the peace and happiness of our common country. It is of the utmost importance, that in the seeking to obtain those objects, our endeavours should be uniform, and tend all to the same point. Such an uniformity cannot exist without an uniformity of sentiment as to public matters, and to produce this latter uniformity amongst you is the object of this address.

As to the cause of our present miseries, it is the enormous amount of the taxes, which the Government compels us to pay for the support of its army, its placemen, its pensioners, &c., and for the payment of the interest of its debt. That this is the real cause has been a thousand times proved; and, it is now so acknowledged by the creatures of the Government themselves. Two hundred and five of the Correspondents of the Board of Agriculture ascribe the ruin of the country to taxation. Numerous writers, formerly the friends of the Pitt System, now declare, that taxation has been the cause of our distress. Indeed, when we compare our present state to the state of the country previous to the wars against France, we must see that our present misery is owing to no other cause. The taxes then annually raised amounted to about 15 millions: they amounted last year to 70 millions. The nation was then happy; it is now miserable.

The writers and speakers, who labour in the cause of corruption, have taken great pains to make the labouring classes believe, that they are not taxed; that the taxes which are paid by the landlords, farmers, and tradesmen, do not affect you, the journeymen and labourers; and that the tax-makers have been very lenient towards you. But, I hope, that you see to the bottom of these things now. You must be sensible, that, if all your employers were totally ruined in one day, you would be wholly without employment and without bread; and, of course, in whatever degree your employers are deprived of their means, they must withhold means from you. In America the most awkward common labourer receives five shillings a day, while provisions are cheaper in that country than in this. Here, a carter, boarded in the house, receives about seven pounds a-year; in America, he receives about thirty pounds a-year. What is it that makes this difference? Why, in America the whole of Edition: current; Page: [3] the taxes do not amount to more than about ten shillings a-head upon the whole of the population; while in England they amount to nearly six pounds a-head! There, a journeyman or labourer may support his family well, and save from thirty to sixty pounds a-year: here, he amongst you is a lucky man, who can provide his family with food and with decent clothes to cover them, without any hope of possessing a penny in the days of sickness, or of old age. There, the Chief Magistrate receives 6,000 pounds a-year; here, the civil list surpasses a million of pounds in amount, and as much is allowed to each of the Princesses in one year, as the Chief Magistrate of America receives in two years, though that country is nearly equal to this in population.

A Mr. Preston, a lawyer of great eminence, and a great praiser of Pitt, has just published a pamphlet, in which is this remark: “It should always be remembered, that the eighteen pounds a-year paid to any placeman or pensioner, withdraws from the public the means of giving active employment to one individual as the head of a family; thus depriving five persons of the means of sustenance from the fruits of honest industry and active labour, and rendering them paupers.” Thus this supporter of Pitt acknowledges the great truth, that the taxes are the cause of a people’s poverty and misery and degradation. We did not stand in need of this acknowledgment; the fact has been clearly proved before; but, it is good for us to see the friends and admirers of Pitt brought to make this confession.

It has been attempted to puzzle you with this sort of question: “If taxes be the cause of the people’s misery, how comes it that they were not so miserable before the taxes were reduced as they are now?” Here is a fallacy, which you will be careful to detect. I know that the taxes have been reduced; that is to say, nominally reduced, but not so in fact; on the contrary, they have, in reality, been greatly augmented. This has been done by the slight-of-hand of paper-money. Suppose, for instance, that four years ago, I had 100 pounds to pay in taxes, then 130 bushels of wheat would have paid my share. If I have now 75 pounds to pay in taxes, it will require 190 bushels of wheat to pay my share of taxes. Consequently, though my taxes are nominally reduced, they are, in reality, greatly augmented. This has been done by the legerdemain of paper-money. In 1812, the pound-note was worth only thirteen shillings in silver. It is now worth twenty shillings. Therefore, when we now pay a pound-note to the tax-gatherer, we really pay him twenty shillings where we before paid him thirteen shillings; and the fundholders who lent pound-notes worth thirteen shillings each, are now paid their interest in pounds worth twenty shillings each. And, the thing is come to what Sir Francis Burdett told the Parliament it would come to. He told them, in 1811, that if they ever attempted to pay the interest of their debt in gold and silver, or in paper-money equal in value to gold and silver, the farmers and tradesmen must be ruined, and the journeymen and labourers reduced to the last stage of misery.

Thus, then, it is clear, that it is the weight of the taxes, under which you are sinking, which has already pressed so many of you down into the state of paupers, and which now threatens to deprive many of you of your existence. We next come to consider, what have been the causes of this weight of taxes. Here we must go back a little in our history, and you will soon see, that this intolerable weight has all proceeded from the want of a Parliamentary Reform.

In the year 1764, soon after the present king came to the throne, the Edition: current; Page: [4] annual interest of the debt amounted to about five millions, and the whole of the taxes to about nine millions. But, soon after this a war was entered on to compel the Americans to submit to be taxed by the Parliament, without being represented in that Parliament. The Americans triumphed, and, after the war was over, the annual interest of the Debt amounted to about nine millions, and the whole of the taxes to about 15 millions. This was our situation, when the French people began their Revolution. The French people had so long been the slaves of a despotic government, that the friends of freedom in England rejoiced at their emancipation. The cause of Reform, which had never ceased to have supporters in England for a great many years, now acquired new life, and the Reformers urged the Parliament to grant reform, instead of going to war against the people of France. The Reformers said: “Give the nation reform, and you need fear no revolution.” The Parliament, instead of listening to the Reformers, crushed them, and went to war against the people of France; and the consequence of these wars is, that the annual interest of the Debt now amounts to 45 millions, and the whole of the taxes, during each of the last several years, to 70 millions. So that these wars have ADDED 36 millions a-year to the interest of the Debt, and 55 millions a-year to the amount of the whole of the taxes! This is the price that we have paid for having checked (for it is only checked) the progress of liberty in France; for having forced upon that people the family of Bourbon, and for having enabled another branch of that same family to restore the bloody Inquisition, which Napoleon had put down.

Since the restoration of the Bourbons and of the old government of France has been, as far as possible, the grand result of the contest; since this has been the end of all our fightings and all our past sacrifices and present misery and degradation; let us see (for the inquiry is now very full of interest,) what sort of Government that was, which the French people had just destroyed, when our Government began its wars against that people.

If, only 28 years ago, any man in England had said, that the Government of France was one that ought to be suffered to exist, he would have been hooted out of any company. It is notorious, that that Government was a cruel despotism; and that we and our forefathers always called it such. This description of that Government is to be found in all our histories, in all our Parliamentary debates, in all our books on government and politics. It is notorious, that the family of Bourbon has produced the most perfidious and bloody monsters that ever disgraced the human form. It is notorious, that millions of Frenchmen have been butchered, and burnt, and driven into exile by their commands. It is recorded, even in the history of France, that one of them said, that the putrid carcass of a Protestant smelt sweet to him. Even in these latter times, so late as the reign of Louis XIV., it is notorious, that hundreds of thousands of innocent people were put to the most cruel death. In some instances, they were burnt in their houses; in others they were shut into lower rooms, while the incessant noise of kettle-drums over their heads, day and night, drove them to raving madness. To enumerate all the infernal means employed by this tyrant to torture and kill the people, would fill a volume. Exile was the lot of those who escaped the swords, the wheels, the axes, the gibbets, the torches of his hell-hounds. England was the place of refuge for many of these persecuted people. The grandfather of the present Earl of Radnor, and the father of the venerable Baron Maseres, were amongst them; and, it is well known that England owes no inconsiderable part of her manufacturing skill and Edition: current; Page: [5] industry to that atrocious persecution. Enemies of freedom, wherever it existed, this family of Bourbon, in the reign of Louis XIV. and XV., fitted out expeditions for the purpose of restoring the Stuarts to the throne of England, and thereby caused great expense and bloodshed to this nation; and, even the Louis who was beheaded by his subjects, did, in the most perfidious manner, make war upon England, during her war with America. No matter what was the nature of the cause, his conduct was perfidious; he professed peace while he was preparing for war. His object could not be to assist freedom, because his own subjects were slaves.

Such was the family that were ruling in France, when the French Revolution began. After it was resolved to go to war against the people of France, all the hirelings of corruption were set to work to gloss over the character and conduct of the old Government, and to paint in the most horrid colours the acts of vengeance which the people were inflicting on the numerous tyrants, civil, military, and ecclesiastical, whom the change of things had placed at their mercy. The people’s turn was now come, and, in the days of their power, they justly bore in mind the oppressions which they and their forefathers had endured. The taxes, imposed by the Government, became, at last, intolerable. It had contracted a great Debt to carry on its wars. In order to be able to pay the interest of this debt, and to support an enormous standing army in time of peace, it laid upon the people burdens, which they could no longer endure. It fined and flogged fathers and mothers, if their children were detected in smuggling. Its courts of justice were filled with cruel and base judges. The nobility treated the common people like dogs; these latter were compelled to serve as soldiers, but were excluded from all share, or chance, of honour and command, which were engrossed by the nobility.

Now, when the time came for the people to have the power in their hands, was it surprising, that the first use they made of it was to take vengeance on their oppressors? I will not answer this question myself. It shall be answered by Mr. Arthur Young, the present Secretary of the Board of Agriculture. He was in France at the time, and living upon the very spot, and having examined into the causes of the Revolution, he wrote and published the following remarks, in his Travels, Vol. I. page 603:

“It is impossible to justify the excesses of the people on their taking up arms; they were certainly guilty of cruelties; it is idle to deny the facts, for they have been proved too clearly to admit of doubt. But is it really THE PEOPLE, to whom we are to impute the whole?—Or to THEIR OPPRESSORS, who had kept them so long in a state of bondage? He who chooses to be served by slaves and by ill-treated slaves, must know that he holds both his property and his life by a tenure far different from those who prefer the service of well-treated freemen; and he who dines to the music of groaning sufferers, must not, in the moment of insurrection, complain that his daughters are ravished, and then destroyed; and that his sons’ throats are cut. When such evils happen, they surely are more imputable to the tyranny of the master, than to the cruelty of the servant. The analogy holds with the French peasants. The murder of a Seigneur (a Lord,) or a country-seat in flames, is recorded in every newspaper; the rank of the person who suffers, attracts notice; but where do we find the registers of that seigneur’s oppressions of his peasantry, and his exactions of feudal services, from those whose children were dying around them for want of bread? Where do we find the minutes that assigned these starving wretches to some vile pettifogger, to be fleeced by impositions, AND MOCKERY OF JUSTICE, in the seigneural courts (petty courts of justice)? Who gives us the awards of the Intendant (Head Tax-collector) and his sub-delegues, which took off the taxes of a man of fashion, and laid them with accumulated weight on the poor, who were so unfortunate as to be his neighbours? Who has dwelt sufficiently upon explaining all the Edition: current; Page: [6] ramifications of despotism, regal, aristocratical, and ecclesiastical, pervading the whole mass of the people; reaching, like a circulating fluid, the most distant capillary tubes of poverty and wretchedness? In these cases the sufferers are too ignoble to be known; and the mass too indiscriminate to be pitied. But should a philosopher feel and reason thus? Should he mistake the cause for the effect? and, giving all his pity to the few, feel no compassion for the many, because they suffer in his eyes, not individually but by millions? The excesses of the people cannot, I repeat, be justified; it would undoubtedly have done them credit, both as men and as Christians, if they had possessed their new acquired power with moderation.—But let it be remembered, that the populace in no country ever use power with moderation; excess is inherent in their aggregate constitution: and as every Government in the world knows, that violence infallibly attends power in such hands, it is doubly bound in common sense, and for common safety, so to conduct itself, that the people may not find an interest in public confusions. They will always suffer much and long, before they are effectually roused; nothing, therefore, can kindle the flame, but such oppressions of some classes or order in society as give able men the opportunity of seconding the general mass; discontent will diffuse itself around; and if the Government TAKE NOT WARNING IN TIME; it is ALONE answerable for all the burnings and all the plunderings and all the devastation and all the blood that follow.

Who can deny the justice of these observations? It was the Government ALONE that was justly chargeable with the excesses committed in this early stage, and, in fact, in every other stage, of the Revolution of France. If the Government had given way IN TIME, none of these excesses would have been committed. If it had listened to the complaints, the prayers, the supplications, the cries, of the cruelly-treated and starving people; if it had changed its conduct, reduced its expenses, it might have been safe under the protection of the peace-officers, and might have disbanded its standing army. But it persevered; it relied upon the bayonet, and upon its judges and hangmen. The latter were destroyed, and the former went over to the side of the people. Was it any wonder that the people burnt the houses of their oppressors, and killed the owners and their families? The country contained thousands upon thousands of men that had been ruined by taxation, and by judgments of infamous courts of justice, “a mockery of justice;” and, when these ruined men saw their oppressors at their feet, was it any wonder that they took vengeance upon them? Was it any wonder that the son, who had seen his father and mother flogged, because he, when a child, had smuggled a handful of salt, should burn for an occasion to shoot through the head the ruffians who had thus lacerated the bodies of his parents? Moses slew the insolent Egyptian who had smitten one of his countrymen in bondage. Yet Moses has never been called either a murderer or a cruel wretch for this act; and the bondage of the Israelites was light as a feather, compared to the tyranny under which the people of France had groaned for ages. Moses resisted oppression in the only way that resistance was within his power. He knew that his countrymen had no chance of justice in any court; he knew that petitions against his oppressors were all in vain; and, “looking upon the burdens” of his countrymen, he resolved to begin the only sort of resistance that was left him. Yet, it was little more than a mere insult that drew forth his anger and resistance; and, if Moses was justified, as he clearly was, what needs there any apology for the people of France?

It seems at first sight very strange, that the Government of France should not have “taken warning in time.” But, it had so long been in the habit of despising the people, that its mind was incapable of entertaining Edition: current; Page: [7] any notion of danger from the oppressions heaped upon them. It was surrounded with panders and parasites, who told it nothing but flattering falsehoods; and it saw itself supported by 250,000 bayonets, which it thought irresistible; though it found in the end, that those, who wielded those bayonets were not long so base as to be induced, either by threats or promises, to butcher their brothers and sisters and parents. And, if you ask me how the ministers and the noblesse and the priesthood who generally know pretty well how to take care of themselves; if you ask me how it came to pass, that they did not “take warning in time,” I answer, that they did take warning, but, that, seeing, that the change which was coming would deprive them of a great part of their power and emoluments, they resolved to resist the change, and to destroy the country, if possible, rather than not have all its wealth and power to themselves. The ruffian, whom we read of, a little time ago, who stabbed a young woman, because she was breaking from him to take the arm of another man whom she preferred, acted upon the principle of the ministers, the noblesse, and the clergy of France. They could no longer unjustly possess, therefore they would destroy. They saw that if a just government were established; that, if the people were fairly represented in a national council; they saw, that if this were to take place, they would no longer be able to wallow in wealth at the expense of the people; and, seeing this, they resolved to throw all into confusion, and, if possible, to make a heap of ruins of that country, which they could no longer oppress, and the substance of which they could no longer devour.

Talk of violence indeed! Was there anything too violent, anything too severe, to be inflicted on these men? It was they who produced confusion; it was they who caused the massacres and guillotinings; it was they who destroyed the kingly government; it was they who brought the King to the block. They were answerable for all and for every single part of the mischief, as much as Pharaoh was for the plagues in Egypt, which history of Pharaoh seems, by-the-bye, to be intended as a lesson to all future tyrants. He “set task-masters over the Israelites to afflict them with burdens; and he made them build treasure cities for him; he made them serve with rigor; he made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service of the field; he denied them straw, and insisted upon their making the same quantity of bricks, and because they were unable to obey, the task-masters called them idle and beat them.” Was it too much to scourge and to destroy all the first-born of men, who could tolerate, assist, and uphold a tyrant like this? Yet was Pharaoh less an oppressor than the old government of France.

Thus, then, we have a view of the former state of that country, by wars against the people of which we have been brought into our present state of misery. There are many of the hirelings of corruption, who actually insist on it, that we ought now to go to war again for the restoring of all the cruel despotism which formerly existed in France. This is what cannot be done, however. Our wars have sent back the Bourbons; but the tithes, the Seigneurs (the Lords), and many other curses have not been restored. The French people still enjoy much of the benefit of the revolution; and great numbers of their ancient petty tyrants have been destroyed. So that, even were things to remain as they are, the French people have gained greatly by their revolution. But things cannot remain as they are. Better days are at hand.

Edition: current; Page: [8]

In proceeding now to examine the remedies for your distresses, I shall first notice some of those, which foolish, or cruel and insolent men have proposed. Seeing that the cause of your misery is the weight of taxation, one would expect to hear of nothing but a reduction of taxation in the way of remedy; but, from the friends of corruption, never do we hear of any such remedy. To hear them, one would think, that you had been the guilty cause of the misery you suffer; and that you, and you alone, ought to be made answerable for what has taken place. The emissaries of corruption are now continually crying out against the weight of the Poor-rates, and they seem to regard all that is taken in that way as a dead loss to the Government! Their project is, to deny relief to all who are able to work. But what is the use of your being able to work, if no one will, or can, give you work? To tell you that you must work for your bread, and, at the same time, not to find any work for you, is full as bad as it would be to order you to make bricks without straw. Indeed, it is rather more cruel and insolent; for Pharaoh’s task-masters did point out to the Israelites that they might go into the fields and get stubble. The Courier newspaper of the 9th of October, says, “we must thus be cruel only to be kind.” I am persuaded, that you will not understand this kindness, while you will easily understand the cruelty. The notion of these people seems to be, that every body that receives money out of the taxes have a right to receive it, except you. They tremble at the fearful amount of the Poor-rates: they say, and very truly, that those rates have risen from two-and-a-half to eight or ten millions since the beginning of the wars against the people of France; they think, and not without reason, that these rates will soon swallow up nearly all the rent of the land. These assertions and apprehensions are perfectly well founded; but how can you help it? You have not had the management of the affairs of the nation. It is not you who have ruined the farmers and tradesmen. You want only food and raiment: you are ready to work for it; but you cannot go naked and without food.

But the complaints of these persons against you are the more unreasonable, because they say not a word against the sums paid to sinecure placemen and pensioners. Of the five hundred and more Correspondents of the Board of Agriculture, there are scarcely ten, who do not complain of the weight of the Poor-rates, of the immense sums taken away from them by the poor, and many of them complain of the idleness of the poor. But not one single man complains of the immense sums taken away to support sinecure placemen, who do nothing for their money, and to support pensioners, many of whom are women and children, the wives and daughters of the nobility and other persons in high life, and who can do nothing, and never can have done any thing, for what they receive. There are of these places and pensions all sizes, from twenty pounds to thirty thousand and nearly forty thousand pounds a year! And, surely, these ought to be done away before any proposition be made to take the parish allowance from any of you, who are unable to work, or to find work to do. There are several individual placemen, the profits of each of which would maintain a thousand families. The names of the ladies upon the pension-list would, if printed one under another, fill a sheet of paper like this. And is it not, then, base and cruel at the same time in these Agricultural correspondents to cry out so loudly against the charge of supporting the unfortunate poor, while they utter not a word of complaint against the sinecure places and pensions?

Edition: current; Page: [9]

The unfortunate journeymen and labourers and their families have a right, they have a just claim, to relief from the purses of the rich. For, there can exist no riches and no resources, which they by their labour, have not assisted to create. But, I should be glad to know how the sinecure placemen and lady pensioners have assisted to create food and raiment, or the means of producing them. The labourer who is out of work, or ill, to-day, may be able to work, and set to work to-morrow. While those placemen and pensioners never can work; or, at least, it is clear that they never intend to do it.

You have been represented by the Times newspaper, by the Courier, by the Morning Post, by the Morning Herald, and others, as the scum of society. They say, that you have no business at public meetings; that you are rabble, and that you pay no taxes. These insolent hirelings, who wallow in wealth, would not be able to put their abuse of you in print were it not for your labour. You create all that is an object of taxation; for even the land itself would be good for nothing without your labour. But are you not taxed? Do you pay no taxes? One of the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture has said, that care has been taken to lay as little tax as possible on the articles used by you. One would wonder how a man could be found impudent enough to put an assertion like this upon paper. But the people of this country have so long been insulted by such men, that the insolence of the latter knows no bounds.

The tax-gatherers do not, indeed, come to you and demand money of you: but, there are few articles which you use, in the purchase of which you do not pay a tax.

On your shoes, salt, beer, malt, hops, tea, sugar, candles, soap, paper, coffee, spirits, glass of your windows, bricks and tiles, tobacco: on all these, and many other articles you pay a tax, and even on your loaf you pay a tax, because every thing is taxed from which the loaf proceeds. In several cases the tax amounts to more than one-half of what you pay for the article itself; these taxes go in part, to support sinecure placemen and pensioners; and, the ruffians of the hired press call you the scum of society, and deny that you have any right to show your faces at any public meeting to petition for a Reform, or for the removal of any abuse whatever!

Mr. Preston, whom I quoted before, and who is a member of Parliament and has a large estate, says, upon this subject, “Every family, even of the poorest labourer, consisting of five persons, may be considered as paying, in indirect taxes, at least ten pounds a year, or more than half his wages at seven shillings a week!” And yet the insolent hirelings call you the mob, the rabble, the scum, the swinish multitude, and say, that your voice is nothing; that you have no business at public meetings; and that you are, and ought to be, considered as nothing in the body politic!—Shall we never see the day when these men will change their tone! Will they never cease to look upon us brutes! I trust they will change their tone, and that the day of the change is at no great distance!

The weight of the Poor-rate, which must increase while the present system continues, alarms the corrupt, who plainly see, that what is paid to relieve you they cannot have. Some of them, therefore, hint at your early marriages as a great evil, and a clergyman named Malthus, has seriously proposed measures for checking you in this respect; while one of the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture complains of the increase Edition: current; Page: [10] of bastards, and proposes severe punishment on the parents! How hard these men are to please! What would they have you do? As some have called you the swinish multitude, would it be much wonder if they were to propose to serve you as families of young pigs are served? Or, if they were to bring forward the measure of Pharaoh, who ordered the midwives to kill all the male children of the Israelites?

But, if you can restrain your indignation at these insolent notions and schemes, with what feelings must you look upon the condition of your country, where the increase of the people is now looked upon as a curse! Thus, however, has it always been, in all countries, where taxes have produced excessive misery. Our countryman, Mr. Gibbon, in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has the following passage: “The horrid practice of murdering their new-born infants was become every day more frequent in the provinces. It was the effect of distress, and the distress was principally occasioned by the intolerable burden of taxes, and by the vexatious as well as cruel prosecutions of the officers of the revenue against their insolvent debtors. The less opulent or less industrious part of mankind, instead of rejoicing at an increase of family, deemed it an act of paternal tenderness to release the children from the impending miseries of a life which they themselves were unable to support.”

But that which took place under the base Emperor Constantine will not take place in England. You will not murder your new-born infants, nor will you, to please the corrupt and insolent, debar yourselves from enjoyments, to which you are invited by the very first of Nature’s laws. It is, however, a disgrace to the country, that men should be found in it capable of putting ideas so insolent upon paper. So then, a young man, arm-in-arm with a rosy-cheeked girl, must be a spectacle of evil omen! What! and do they imagine, that you are thus to be extinguished, because some of you are now (without any fault of yours) unable to find work. As far as you were wanted to labour, to fight, or to pay taxes, you were welcome, and they boasted of your numbers; but now that your country has been brought into a state, of misery these corrupt and insolent men are busied with schemes for getting rid of you. Just as if you had not as good a right to live and to love and to marry as they have! They do not propose, far from it, to check the breeding of sinecure placemen and pensioners, who are supported, in part, by the taxes which you help to pay. They say not a word about the whole families who are upon the pension-list. In many cases there are sums granted in trust for the children of such a lord or such a lady. And, while labourers and journeymen who have large families too, are actually paying taxes for the support of these lords’ and ladies’ children, these cruel and insolent men propose that they shall have no relief, and that their having children ought to be checked! To such a subject no words can do justice. You will feel as you ought to feel; and to the effect of your feelings I leave these cruel and insolent men.

There is one more scheme to notice, which, though rather less against nature is not less hateful and insolent; namely, to encourage you to emigrate to foreign countries. This scheme is distinctly proposed to the Government by one of the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture. What he means by encouragement must be to send away by force, or by paying for the passage; for a man who has money stands in no need of Edition: current; Page: [11] relief. But, I trust, that not a man of you will move, let the encouragement be what it may. It is impossible for many to go, though the prospect may be ever so fair. We must stand by our country, and it is base not to stand by her, as long as there is a chance of seeing her what she ought to be. But, the proposition is, nevertheless, base and insolent. This man did not propose to encourage the sinecure placemen and pensioners to emigrate; yet, surely, you who help to maintain them by the taxes which you pay, have as good a right to remain in the country as they have! You have fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and children and friends as well as they; but, this base projector recommends, that you may be encouraged to leave your relations and friends for ever; while he would have the sinecure placemen and pensioners remain quietly where they are!

No: you will not leave your country. If you have suffered much and long, you have the greater right to remain in the hope of seeing better days. And I beseech you not to look upon yourselves as the scum; but, on the contrary, to be well persuaded, that a great deal will depend upon your exertions; and, therefore, I now proceed to point out to you what appears to me to be the line of conduct which journeymen and labourers ought to pursue in order to obtain effectual relief, and to assist in promoting tranquillity and restoring the happiness of their country.

We have seen that the cause of our miseries is the burden of taxes, occasioned by wars, by standing armies, by sinecures, by pensions, &c. It would be endless and useless to enumerate all the different heads or sums of expenditure. The remedy is what we have now to look to, and that remedy consists wholly and solely of such a reform in the Commons’ or People’s House of Parliament, as shall give to every payer of direct taxes a vote at elections, and as shall cause the Members to be elected annually.

In a late Register I have pointed out how easily, how peacably, how fairly, such a Parliament might be chosen. I am aware, that it may, and not without justice, be thought wrong to deprive those of the right of voting, who pay indirect taxes. Direct taxes are those which are directly paid by any person into the hands of the tax-gatherer, as the assessed taxes and rates. Indirect taxes are those which are paid indirectly through the maker or seller of goods, as the tax on soap or candles or salt or malt. And, as no man ought to be taxed without his consent, there has always been a difficulty upon this head. There has been no question about the right of every man, who is free to exercise his will, who has a settled place in society, and who pays a tax of any sort, to vote for Members of Parliament. The difficulty is in taking the votes by any other means than by the Rate-book; for if there be no list of taxpayers in the hands of any person, mere menial servants, vagrants, pickpockets and scamps of all sorts might not only come to poll, but they might poll in several parishes or places, on one and the same day. A corrupt rich man might employ scores of persons of this description, and in this way would the purpose of reform be completely defeated. In America, where one branch of the Congress is elected for four years and the other for two years, they have still adhered to the principle of direct taxation, and in some of the States, they have made it necessary for a voter to be worth a hundred pounds. Yet they have, in that country, duties on goods, custom duties and excise duties also; and, of course, there are many persons, who really pay taxes, and who, nevertheless, Edition: current; Page: [12] are not permitted to vote. The people do not complain of this. They know that the number of votes is so great, that no corruption can take place, and they have no desire to see livery-servants, vagrants, and pickpockets take part in their elections. Nevertheless, it would be very easy for a reformed Parliament, when once it had taken root, to make a just arrangement of this matter. The most likely method would be to take off the indirect taxes, and to put a small direct tax upon every master of a house, however low his situation in life.

But, this and all other good things, must be done by a reformed Parliament.—We must have that first, or we shall have nothing good; and, any man, who would, beforehand, take up your time with the detail of what a reformed Parliament ought to do in this respect, or with respect to any changes in the form of government, can have no other object than that of defeating the cause of reform, and, indeed, the very act must show, that to raise obstacles is his wish.

Such men, now that they find you justly irritated, would persuade you, that, because things have been perverted from their true ends, there is nothing good in our constitution and laws. For what, then, did Hampden die in the field, and Sydney on the scaffold? And, has it been discovered, at last, that England has always been an enslaved country from top to toe? The Americans, who are a very wise people, and who love liberty with all their hearts, and who take care to enjoy it, too, took special care not to part with any of the great principles and laws which they derived from their forefathers. They took special care to speak with reverence of, and to preserve Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, and not only all the body of the Common Law of England, but most of the rules of our courts, and all our form of jurisprudence. Indeed, it is the greatest glory of England that she has thus supplied with sound principles of freedom those immense regions, which will be peopled, perhaps, by hundreds of millions.

I know of no enemy of reform and of the happiness of the country so great as that man, who would persuade you that we possess nothing good, and that all must be torn to pieces. There is no principle, no precedent, no regulations (except as to mere matter of detail), favourable to freedom, which is not to be found in the Laws of England or in the example of our ancestors. Therefore, I say, we may ask for, and we want nothing new. We have great constitutional laws and principles, to which we are immoveably attached. We want great alteration, but we want nothing new. Alteration, modification to suit the times and circumstances; but the great principles, ought to be and must be, the same, or else confusion will follow.

It was the misfortune of the French people, that they had no great and settled principles to refer to in their laws or history. They sallied forth and inflicted vengeance on their oppressors; but, for want of settled principles, to which to refer, they fell into confusion; they massacred each other; they next flew to a military chief to protect them even against themselves; and the result has been what we too well know. Let us, therefore, congratulate ourselves, that we have great constitutional principles and laws, to which we can refer, and to which we are attached.

That Reform will come I know, if the people do their duty; and all that we have to guard against is confusion, which cannot come if Reform take place in time. I have before observed to you, that when the friends of corruption in France saw that they could not prevent a change, they Edition: current; Page: [13] bent their endeavours to produce confusion, in which they fully succeeded. They employed numbers of unprincipled men to go about the country proposing all sorts of mad schemes. They produced, first a confusion in men’s minds, and next a civil war between provinces, towns, villages, and families. The tyrant Robespierre, who was exceeded in cruelty only by some of the Bourbons, was proved to have been in league with the open enemies of France. He butchered all the real friends of freedom whom he could lay his hands on, except Paine, whom he shut up in a dungeon till he was reduced to a skeleton. This monster was, at last, put to death himself; and his horrid end ought to be a warning to any man, who may wish to walk in the same path. But I am, for my part, in little fear of the influence of such men. They cannot cajole you, as Robespierre cajoled the people of Paris. It is, nevertheless, necessary for you to be on your guard against them, and, when you hear a man talking big and hectoring about projects which go farther than a real and radical Reform of the Parliament, be you well assured, that that man would be a second Robespierre if he could, and that he would make use of you, and sacrifice the life of the very last man of you; that he would ride upon the shoulders of some through rivers of the blood of others, for the purpose of gratifying his own selfish and base and insolent ambition.

In order effectually to avoid the rock of confusion, we should keep steadily in our eye, not only what we wish to be done, but what can be done now. We know that such a reform as would send up a Parliament, chosen by all the payers of direct taxes, is not only just and reasonable, but easy of execution. I am, therefore, for accomplishing that object first; and I am not at all afraid, that a set of men who would really hold the purse of the people, and who had been just chosen freely by the people, would very soon do every thing that the warmest friend of freedom could wish to see done.

While, however, you are upon your guard against false friends, you should neglect no opportunity of doing all that is within your power to give support to the cause of Reform. Petition is the channel for your sentiments, and there is no village so small that its petition would not have some weight. You ought to attend at every public meeting within your reach. You ought to read to, and to assist each other in coming at a competent knowledge of all public matters. Above all things, you ought to be unanimous in your object, and not to suffer yourselves to be divided.

The subject of religion has nothing to do with this great question of reform. A reformed Parliament would soon do away all religious distinctions and disabilities. In their eyes, a Catholic and a Protestant would both appear in the same light.

The Courier, the Times, and other emissaries of corruption, are constantly endeavouring to direct your wrath against bakers, brewers, butchers, and other persons, who deal in the necessaries of life. But, I trust, that you are not to be stimulated to such a species of violence. These tradesmen are as much in distress as you. They cannot help their malt and hops and beer and bread and meat being too dear for you to purchase. They all sell as cheap as they can, without being absolutely ruined. The beer you drink is more than half tax, and when the tax has been paid by the seller, he must have payment back again from you who drink, or he must be ruined. The baker has numerous taxes to pay, and Edition: current; Page: [14] so has the butcher, and so has the miller and the farmer. Besides all men are eager to sell, and, if they could sell cheaper, they certainly would, because that would be the sure way of getting more custom. It is the weight of the taxes, which presses us all to the earth, except those who receive their incomes out of those taxes. Therefore I exhort you most earnestly not to be induced to lay violent hands on those, who really suffer as much as yourselves.

On the subject of lowering wages, too, you ought to consider, that your employers cannot give to you, that which they have not. At present corn is high in price, but that high price is no benefit to the farmer, because it has arisen from that badness of the crop, which Mr. Hunt foretold at the Common Hall, and for the foretelling of which he was so much abused by the hirelings of the press, who, almost up to this very moment, have been boasting and thanking God for the goodness of the crop! The farmer, whose corn is half destroyed, gains nothing by selling the remaining half for double the price at which he would have sold the whole. If I grow 10 quarters of wheat, and, if I save it all, and sell it for two pounds a quarter, I receive as much money as if I sold the one-half of it for four pounds a quarter. And I am better off in the former case, because I want wheat for seed, and because I want some to consume myself. These matters I recommend to your serious consideration; because, it being unjust to fall upon your employers to force them to give that which they have not to give, your conduct in such cases must tend to weaken the great cause in which we ought all now to be engaged; namely, the removal of our burdens through the means of a reformed Parliament. It is the interest of vile men of all descriptions to set one part of the people against the other part; and, therefore, it becomes you to be constantly on your guard against their allurements.

When journeymen find their wages reduced, they should take time to reflect on the real cause, before they fly upon their employers, who are, in many cases, in as great, or greater, distress than themselves. How many of those employers have, of late, gone to jail for debt, and left helpless families behind them! The employer’s trade falls off. His goods are reduced in price. His stock loses the half of its value. He owes money. He is ruined; and how can he continue to pay high wages? The cause of his ruin is the weight of the taxes, which presses so heavily on us all, that we lose the power of purchasing goods. But, it is certain, that a great many, a very large portion, of the farmers, tradesmen, and manufacturers, have, by their supineness and want of public spirit, contributed towards the bringing of this ruin upon themselves and upon you. They have skulked from their public duty. They have kept aloof from, or opposed, all measures for a redress of grievances; and, indeed, they still skulk, though ruin and destruction stare them in the face. Why do they not now come forward and explain to you the real cause of the reduction of your wages? Why do they not put themselves at your head in petitioning for redress? This would secure their property much better than the calling in of troops, which can never afford them more than a short and precarious security. In the days of their prosperity, they were amply warned of what has now come to pass; and the far greater part of them abused and calumniated those who gave them the warning. Even if they would now act the part of men worthy of being relieved, the relief to us all would speedily follow. Edition: current; Page: [15] If they will not; if they will still skulk, they will merit all the miseries which they are destined to suffer.

Instead of coming forward to apply for a reduction of those taxes which are pressing them as well as you to the earth, what are they doing? Why, they are applying to the Government to add to their receipts by passing Corn Bills, by preventing foreign wool from being imported; and many other such silly schemes. Instead of asking for a reduction of taxes, they are asking for the means of paying taxes! Instead of asking for the abolition of sinecure places and pensions, they pray to be enabled to continue to pay the amount of those places and pensions! They know very well, that the salaries of the judges and of many other persons were greatly raised, some years ago, on the ground of the rise in the price of labour and provisions, why then do they not ask to have those salaries reduced, now that labour is reduced? Why do they not apply to the case of the judges and others, the arguments which they apply to you? They can talk boldly enough to you; but, they are too great cowards to talk to the Government, even in the way of petition! Far more honourable is it to be a ragged pauper than to be numbered among such men.

These people call themselves the respectable part of the nation. They are, as they pretend, the virtuous part of the people, because they are quiet; as if virtue consisted in immobility! There is a canting Scotchman, in London, who publishes a paper called the “Champion,” who is everlastingly harping upon the virtues of the “fire-side,” and who inculcates the duty of quiet submission. Might we ask this Champion of the tea-pot and milk-jug, whether Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights were won by the fire-side? Whether the tyrants of the House of Stuart and of Bourbon were hurled down by fire-side virtues? Whether the Americans gained their independence, and have preserved their freedom, by quietly sitting by the fire-side? O, no! these were all achieved by action, and amidst bustle and noise. Quiet, indeed! Why, in this quality, a log, or a stone, far surpasses even the pupils of this “Champion” of quietness; and the chairs round his fire-side exceed those who sit in them. But, in order to put these quiet, fire-side, respectable people to the test, let us ask them, if they approve of drunkenness, breaches of the peace, black eyes, bloody noses, fraud, bribery, corruption, perjury, and subornation of perjury; and, if they say NO, let us ask them whether these are not going on all over the country at every general election. If they answer YES, as they must, unless they be guilty of wilful falsehood, will they then be so good as to tell us how they reconcile their inactivity with sentiments of virtue? Some men, in all former ages, have been held in esteem for their wisdom, their genius, their skill, their valour, their devotion to country, &c., but, never, until this age, was quietness deemed a quality to be extolled. It would be no difficult matter to show, that the quiet, fire-side, gentry are the most callous and cruel, and, therefore, the most wicked part of the nation. Amongst them it is that you find all the peculators, all the blood-suckers of various degrees, all the borough voters and their offspring, all the selfish and unfeeling wretches, who, rather than risk the disturbing of their ease for one single month, rather than go a mile to hold up their hand at a public meeting, would see half the people perish with hunger and cold. The humanity, which is continually on their lips, is all fiction. They weep over the tale of woe in a novel; but, round Edition: current; Page: [16] their “decent fire-side,” never was compassion felt for a real sufferer, or indignation at the acts of a powerful tyrant.

The object of the efforts of such writers is clearly enough seen. Keep all quiet! Do not rouse! Keep still! Keep down! Let those who perish, perish in silence! It will, however, be out of the power of these quacks, with all their laudanum, to allay the blood which is now boiling in the veins of the people of this kingdom; who, if they are doomed to perish, are, at any rate, resolved not to perish in silence.—The writer, whom I have mentioned above, says, that he, of course, does not count “the lower classes, who, under the pressure of need, or under the influence of ignorant prejudice, may blindly and weakly rush upon certain and prompt punishment; but that the security of every decent fire-side, every respectable father’s best hopes for his children, still connect themselves with the Government.” And by Government he clearly means, all the mass as it now stands. There is nobody so callous and so insolent as your sentimental quacks and their patients. How these “decent fire-side” people would stare, if, some morning, they were to come down and find them occupied by uninvited visitors! I hope they never will. I hope that things will never come to this pass: but if one thing, more than any other, tends to produce so sad an effect, it is the cool insolence with which such men as this writer treat the most numerous and most suffering classes of the people.

Long as this Address already is, I cannot conclude without some observations on the “Charity Subscriptions” at the London Tavern. The object of this subscription professes to be to afford relief to the distressed labourers, &c. About forty thousand pounds have been subscribed, and there is no probability of its going much further. There is an absurdity upon the face of the scheme; for, as all parishes are compelled by law to afford relief to every person in distress, it is very clear, that, as far as money is given by these people to relieve the poor, there will be so much saved in the parish rates. But, the folly of the thing is not what I wish you most to attend to. Several of the subscribers to this fund receive each of them more than ten thousand pounds, and some more than thirty thousand pounds each, out of those taxes which you help to pay, and which emoluments not a man of them proposes to give up. The clergy appear very forward in this subscription. An Archbishop and a Bishop assisted at the forming of the scheme. Now, then, observe, that there has been given out of the taxes, for several years past, a hundred thousand pounds a year, for what, think you? Why, for the relief of the poor clergy! I have no account at hand later than that delivered last year, and there I find this sum!—for the poor clergy! The rich clergy do not pay this sum; but, it comes out of those taxes, part, and a large part, of which you pay on your beer, malt, salt, shoes, &c. I dare say, that the “decent fire-sides” of these “poor clergy” still connect themselves with the Government. Amongst all our misery we have had to support the intolerable disgrace of being an object of the charity of a Bourbon Prince, while we are paying for supporting that family upon the throne of France. Well! But, is this all? We are taxed, at the very same moment, for the support of the French Emigrants! And you shall now see to what amount. Nay, not only French, but Dutch and others, as appears from the fore-mentioned account, laid before Parliament last year. The sum, paid out of the taxes, in one year for the RELIEF of Suffering French Clergy and Edition: current; Page: [17] Laity, St. Domingo Sufferers, Dutch Emigrants, Corsican Emigrants, was, 187,750l.; yes, one hundred and eighty-seven thousand, seven hundred and fifty pounds, paid to this set in one year out of those taxes, of which you pay so large a share, while you are insulted with a subscription to relieve you, and while there are projectors who have the audacity to recommend schemes for preventing you from marrying while young, and to induce you to emigrate from your country! I’ll venture my life, that the “decent fire-sides” of all this swarm of French clergy and laity, and Dutch, and Corsicans, and St. Domingo sufferers, “still connect themselves closely with the Government;” and, I will also venture my life, that you do not stand in need of one more word to warm every drop of blood remaining in your bodies! As to the money subscribed by Regiments of Soldiers, whose pay arises from taxes, in part paid by you, though it is a most shocking spectacle to behold, I do not think so much of it. The soldiers are your fathers, brothers, and sons. But if they were all to give their whole pay, and if they amount to one hundred and fifty thousand men, it would not amount to one-half of what is now paid in Poor-rates, and of course would not add half a pound of bread to every pound, which the unhappy paupers now receive. All the expenses of the Army and Ordnance amount to an enormous sum—to sixteen or eighteen millions; but the pay of 150,000 men, at one shilling a-day each, amounts to no more than two millions, seven hundred and twelve thousand, and five hundred pounds. So that, supposing them all to receive one shilling a-day each, the soldiers receive only about a third part of the sum now paid annually in Poor-rates.

I have no room, nor have I any desire, to appeal to your passions upon this occasion. I have laid before you, with all the clearness I am master of, the causes of our misery, the measures which have led to those causes, and I have pointed out what appears to me to be the only remedy—namely, a reform of the Commons’, or People’s House of Parliament. I exhort you to proceed in a peaceable and lawful manner, but at the same time, to proceed with zeal and resolution in the attainment of this object. If the skulkers will not join you, if the “decent fire-side” gentry still keep aloof, proceed by yourselves. Any man can draw up a petition, and any man can carry it up to London, with instructions to deliver it into trusty hands, to be presented whenever the House shall meet. Some further information will be given as to this matter in a future Number. In the meanwhile,

I remain your Friend,
Edition: current; Page: [18]
William Cobbett
Cobbett, William


Friends and Fellow Countrymen:

At this time, when the cause of freedom is making a progress which is as cheering to the hearts of her friends as it is appalling to those of her enemies, and, when it is become evident that nothing can possibly prevent that progress from terminating in the happiness of our country, which has, for so many years, been a scene of human misery and degradation; when it is become evident that so glorious a termination of our struggles can be now prevented only by our giving way to our passions instead of listening to the voice of reason, only by our committing those acts which admit of no justification either in law or in equity; at such a time, can it be otherwise than painful to reflect, that acts of this description are committed in any part of the kingdom, and particularly in the enlightened, the patriotic, the brave town of Nottingham?

The abuse which has been heaped upon you by those base writers whose object it is to inflame one part of the people against the other; the horrid stories which have been retailed about your injustice and cruelty; the murderous punishments which these writers express their wish to see inflicted on you; the delight which they evidently feel when any of you come to an untimely end; all these produce no feeling in my mind other than that of abhorrence of your calumniators. The atrocious wickedness of charging you with the burning of Belvoir Castle, in support of which charge there has not been produced the slightest proof, in spite of all the endeavours to do it and all the anxiety to fix such a crime upon you; this alone ought to satisfy the nation, that it can rely upon nothing which a corrupt press has related relative to your conduct. But still it is undeniable, that you have committed acts of violence on the property of your neighbours, and have, in some instances, put themselves and their families in bodily fear. This is not to be denied, and it is deeply to be lamented.

However enlarged our views may be; however impartial we may feel towards our countrymen; still, there will be some particular part of them whose conduct we view with more than ordinary approbation, and for whom we feel more than ordinary good will. It is impossible for me, as a native of these Islands, not to feel proud at beholding the attitude which my countrymen are now taking; at hearing the cause of freedom so ably maintained by men who seem to have sprung up, all at once, out of the earth, from the North of Scotland to the banks of the Thames. Edition: current; Page: [19] At Glasgow, at Paisley, at Bridgeton, throughout the noble counties of York and Lancaster, and in many other parts besides the Metropolis, we now behold that which to behold almost compensates us for a life of persecution and misery. But, still, amidst this crowd of objects of admiration, Nottingham always attracts my particular attention. I have before me the history of the conduct of Nottingham in the worst of times. I have traced its conduct down to the present hour. It has been foremost in all that is public-spirited and brave; and, I shall be very nearly returned to the earth when my blood ceases to stir more quickly than usual at the bare sound of the name of Nottingham.

Judge you, then, my good friends, what pain it must have given me to hear you accused of acts, which I was not only unable to justify, but which, in conscience and in honour, I was bound to condemn! I am not one of those, who have the insolence to presume, that men are ignorant because they are poor. If I myself have more knowledge and talent than appears to have fallen to the lot of those who have brought us into our present miserable state, it ought to convince me, that there are thousands and thousands, now unknown to the public, possessed of greater talent, my education having been that of the common soldier grafted upon the ploughboy. Therefore, I beg you not to suppose, that I address myself to you as one who pretends to any superiority in point of rank, or of natural endowments. I address you as a friend who feels most sincerely for your sufferings; who is convinced that you are in error as to the cause of those sufferings; who wishes to remove that error; and, I do not recollect any occasion of my whole life when I have had so ardent a desire to produce conviction.

As to the particular ground of quarrel between you and your employers, I do not pretend to understand it very clearly. There must have been faults or follies on their side, at some time or other, and there may be still; but, I think, that we shall see, in the sequel, that those circumstances which appear to you to have arisen from their avarice, have, in fact, arisen from their want of the means, more than from their want of inclination, to afford you a competence in exchange for your labour; and, I think this, because it is their interest that you should be happy and contented.

But, as to the use of machinery in general, I am quite sure, that there cannot be any solid objection. However, as this is a question of very great importance, let us reason it together. Hear me with patience; and, if you still differ with me in opinion, ascribe my opinion to error, for it is quite impossible for me to have any interest in differing with you. But, before we proceed any further, it may not be amiss to observe, that the writers on the side of corruption are very anxious to inculcate notions hostile to machinery, as well as notions hostile to bakers and butchers. This fact alone ought to put you on your guard. These men first endeavour to set the labouring class on upon their employers; and then they call aloud for troops to mow them down.

By machines mankind are able to do that which their own bodily powers would never effect to the same extent. Machines are the produce of the mind of man; and, their existence distinguishes the civilized man from the savage. The savage has no machines, or, at least, nothing that we call machines. But, his life is a very miserable life. He is ignorant; his mind has no powers; and, therefore, he is feeble and contemptible. To show that machines are not naturally and necessarily an Edition: current; Page: [20] evil, we have only to suppose the existence of a patriarchal race of a hundred men and their families, all living in common, four men of which are employed in making cloth by hand. Now, suppose some one to discover a machine, by which all the cloth wanted can be made by one man. The consequence would be, that the great family would (having enough of every thing else) use more cloth; or, if any part of the labour of the three cloth-makers were much wanted in any other department, they would be employed in that other department. Thus, would the whole be benefitted by the means of this invention; the whole would have more clothes amongst them, or more food would be raised, or the same quantity as before would be raised, leaving the community more leisure for study or for recreation.

See ten miserable mariners cast on shore on a desert island with only a bag of wheat and a little flax-seed. The soil is prolific; they have fish and fruits; the branches or bark of trees would make them houses, and the wild animals afford them meat. Yet, what miserable dogs they are! They can neither sow the wheat, make the flour, nor catch the fish nor the animals. But let another wreck toss on the shore a spade, a hand-mill, a trowel, a hatchet, a saw, a pot, a gun, and some fish-hooks and knives, and how soon the scene is changed! Yet, they want clothes, and, in order to make them shirts, for instance, six or seven out of the ten are constantly employed in making the linen. This throws a monstrous burden of labour upon the other three, who have to provide the food. But, send them a loom, and you release six out of the seven from the shirt-making concern; and ease as well as plenty immediately succeed.

In these simple cases the question is decided at once in favour of machines. With regard to their effects in a great community like ours, that question is necessarily more complicated; but, at any rate, enough has been said to show, that men cannot live in a civilized state without machines; for, every implement used by man is a machine, machine merely meaning thing as contradistinguished from the hand of man. Besides, if we indulge ourselves in a cry against machines, where are we to stop? Some misguided, poor, suffering men in the county of Suffolk, have destroyed thrashing machines. Why not ploughs, which are only digging machines? Why not spades, and thus come to our bare hands at once? But, why thrashing machines? Is not the flail a machine? The corn could be rubbed out in the hand, and winnowed by the breath; but, then, nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand of us must starve, and the few that remained must become savages.

I will not insult that good sense, of which the men of Nottingham have given so many striking proofs, by pushing further my illustrations of the position, that machinery in general is not an evil. But, the great question to be decided, is, whether machinery, as it at present exists, does not operate to the disadvantage of journeymen and labourers, and is not one cause of the misery they now experience? This is the great question to be decided. But, before I enter on it, give me leave to show you, that the corrupt press, by which you are so much abused, is actually engaged in the work of sending us back by degrees into the savage state just described!

There is a paper in London, called the Courier, which is always praising the acts of the Government and always abusing the Reformers, in the most gross and outrageous manner. The Morning Chronicle asserts that the proprietor of this paper has regular communications with Edition: current; Page: [21] the offices of Government. I do not know how this may be; but, certain it is, that through thick and thin, it praises the acts of the Government. This paper, on the twenty-first instant, contained the following paragraph:—“Amongst other employments for the poor, it is recommended, that parishes should furnish themselves with hand corn-mills; that parish bake-offices should be established; and that the women and girls should be employed in spinning and carding of wool. In Essex, many hands have been employed to shell beans in the fields, which has been done so low as 3d. per bushel, a sum under that usually paid for thrashing. By this means, the beans are got quick to market, first being dried upon the kiln, with the advantage of not being bruised, as they must otherwise have been, if thrashed with the flail.”

This is actually a bold step towards the savage state. It is exceedingly foolish, but, as I shall presently show, exceedingly mischievous also; or, at least, it would be so, if the people had not too much sense to be misled by it. The mind of man has discovered a mode of preparing corn for making him food, by the use of brooks, streams, rivers, and the wind. His mind has subjected the water and wind to his control, and compelled them to serve him in this essential business. But, these barbarians would fain render his discoveries of no avail. They would deprive us of the use of the Wind and the Water in this respect, and set us to grind our corn by hand. Still, hand-mills are machines. Come, then, let us resort to Robinson Crusoe’s pestle and mortar. No: those are machines. Why, then, let us, like cattle, grind the corn with our teeth!

But, what good are these hand-mills to do the poor? Let us see. There is one mill in Hampshire which is capable of grinding and dressing 200 sacks of wheat in a day. The men employed in and about this mill are, or would be, if in full work, about twelve. Now, there are about 200 parishes in Hampshire. Suppose each has a hand-mill, capable of grinding and dressing a sack in a day, and that is full as much as can be done by two able men. Here are four hundred men and two hundred machines employed to do that which would be a great deal better done by twelve men and one stream of water! Aye, but this would find employment for 400 men! Employment! Why not employ them “to fling stones against the wind?” What use would their labour be to any body? May they not as well be doing nothing as doing no good? In short, if the powerful assistance of the wind and the water were thrown aside in this important business, we should find ourselves making a rapid progress towards the feebleness of savage life.

Bake-houses;” parish bake-houses are recommended; and, for what? People now bake at their own houses, if they choose, and yet they find, in general, that there is little economy in so doing. Why, then, this new invention? It is a gross folly. Why not recommend us all to make our own shoes, our own hats, and so on throughout all the articles of dress and furniture? Why is the baker’s trade become more unnecessary now than at any former period? But, the folly is here surpassed by the mischievousness; because this recommendation has a tendency to excite popular discontents against the bakers, and to cause such acts of violence as form an excuse for the calling forth of troops. Seeing that this is a matter of great importance, I will lay before you a statement of the bakers’ profits, by which you will see how unjust are all the attacks which are made upon that description of persons. The Edition: current; Page: [22] best way, however, to satisfy your minds upon this subject, is to suppose the same man to be both miller and baker, and to show you how much a load of wheat is sold for to the miller, and how much it brings back from the public, when paid for by them in the shape of bread. There is no man in England better able to speak confidently upon this subject than I am, having myself caused corn to be ground into flour by a horse-mill, under my own immediate inspection and superintendence, and having verified all the particulars with the greatest exactness. This very year I have sold wheat at market, and, at the same time, have ground the same sample of wheat into flour, for my own use and that of my labourers. Thus I know to a certainty the profits of the miller and the baker both put together, and my wonder has been, that they find the means of living upon so small a profit.

I speak of a load of wheat, because my experiments have been made upon that quantity. A load is 40 Winchester bushels. A load of my wheat, weighing 58½lb., a bushel, and, in the whole, 2349lb. yielded me 1487lb. of flour, fine and seconds; but, I take it, 1475lb. of fine flour, and 807lb. of bran, pollard, and what we call blues. The 1475lb. of flour made 1890lb. of bread, according to repeated experiments. The distribution of the load of wheat stood thus:

In flour 1487lbs. In offal 807 Waste 55 Weight of wheat 2349

The waste arises partly from what goes off in dust about the mill, but chiefly from the evaporation which takes place when the grain comes to be bruised, because, though apparently quite dry and hard, there is a certain portion of moisture, or else there could be no vegetation in the grain, and, it is the small remnant of this vegetative principle, which causes the flour to swell. If dried upon a kiln, wheat will never produce light bread. Now, as to the money part of the concern.

The 1475lb. of flour made 1890lb. of bread, or 438 quartern loaves, at 4lb. 5oz. each. The offal was worth, at the market price, a penny a pound weight. The bakers in the village sold bread, at the same time, at 1s. 1d. the quartern loaf.

438 loaves amounted to £23 14 0 807lb. of offal 3 17 0 £27 11 0 Market price of the wheat 19 0 0 Balance £8 11 0

Here, then, is 8l. 11s. more than the wheat cost. But, only think of what is to be done for this sum! The wheat to be put into the mill; beer for the carters; the grinding and dressing of the wheat; the sacks to put the flour and offal into; the carrying out of the flour and the offal; a delay in the sale; interest of the 19l. and of all those other outgoings; trust and bad debts; the taxes on the miller’s horses, on all he uses and consumes. Then comes the baker. Fire for his oven; yeast; labour in making the bread; labour in sending great part of it Edition: current; Page: [23] out; rent of his house; all his numerous taxes; trust and bad debts; and payment for his time. Is it not wonderful, that a load of wheat can be manufactured into bread and distributed at so cheap a rate? But, in order to show you what would be the consequence of destroying the trade of a baker, let us suppose the flour of this load of wheat bought by 26 good large families, who require about a bushel of flour each a week. Here would be 26 ovens to heat and 26 women employed during the better part of the day. This would be a cost double in amount to the baker’s profit; and, what then would be the case, if there were 50 or 70 ovens to heat? My good friends, I know it from very careful observation, that no family can afford to bake their own bread, even where they have ovens, unless they have their fuel for nothing; and I know, too, that labourers, who live in cottages of my own, who have nice little ovens and fuel for nothing, who yet purchase their bread of the bakers in the village, if their wives have any sort of employment in the fields; and, they have convinced me, that, if the wife loses a day’s work in a week for the sake of baking, they lose by baking their own bread.

What, then, can be more foolish, more unjust, and more dastardly, than to fall with fury upon this useful, this necessary, class of men? And, what can be more base and wicked than the efforts which the corrupt press is making to cause you to believe that a part, at least, of your sufferings arise from what they villanously call the extortions of bakers and butchers? There is no trade which yields so little profit as that of the baker. The butcher comes next; and, must it not be very clear to every one, that, if these trades made large profits, many more persons would go into these trades? Every man wants to get money, and, if money was to be gotten in so simple a way, would there not be plenty of people to come forward to get it?

The story of women and children shelling beans in the field at 3d. a bushel must be false. But, if true, is it possible for any human being to shell in that way a bushel a day, while it is well known that a man with a flail will thrash more than twenty bushels of beans in a day, and be in the dry and be clean and warm all the while! But, this is such miserable nonsense, that I will not any longer detain you with further notice of it. Satisfied, that you will be convinced, from what has been said and from the operation of your own good sense, that there is no just ground for anger against bakers and butchers, and that the cause of your suffering must be very different from that of any extortions on the part of such tradesmen. I shall now return to the subject of machines, and beg your patient attention, while I discuss the interesting question before stated: that is to say, Whether machinery, as it at present exists, does, or does not, “operate to the disadvantage of journeymen and labourers.”

The notion of our labourers in agriculture is, that thrashing machines, for instance, injure them, because, say they, if it were not for those machines, we should have more work to do. This is a great error. For, if, in consequence of using a machine to beat out his corn, the farmer does not expend so much money on that sort of labour, he has so much more money to expend on some other sort of labour. If he saves twenty pounds a year in the article of thrashing, he has that twenty pounds a year to expend in draining, fencing, or some other kind of work; for, you will observe, that he does not take the twenty pounds Edition: current; Page: [24] and put it into a chest and lock it up, but lays it out in his business; and his business is to improve his land, and to add to the quantity and amount of his produce. Thus, in time, he is enabled to feed more mouths, in consequence of his machine, and, to buy, and cause others to buy, more clothes than were bought before; and, as in the case of the ten sailors, the skill of the mechanic tends to produce ease and power and happiness.

The thrashing machines employ women and children in a dry and comfortable barn, while the men can be spared to go to work in the fields. Thus the weekly income of the labourer, who has a large family, is, in many cases, greatly augmented, and his life rendered so much the less miserable. But, this is a trifle compared with the great principle, upon which I am arguing, and which is applicable to all manufactories as well as to farming; for, indeed, what is a farmer other than a manufacturer of corn and cattle?

That the use of machinery, generally speaking, can do the journeyman manufacturer no harm, you will be satisfied of in one moment, if you do but reflect, that it is the quantity of the demand for goods that must always regulate the price, and that the price of the goods must regulate the wages for making the goods. I shall show by-and-bye how the demand or market, may be affected by an alteration in the currency or money of a country,

The quantity of demand for lace, for instance, must depend upon the quantity of money which the people of the country have to expend. When the means of expending are abundant, then a great quantity of lace will be bought; but as those means diminish, so will the purchases of lace diminish in amount. But, in every state of a country, in this respect, the effect of machinery must be the same. There will always be a quantity of money to spare to expend in lace. Sometimes, as we have seen, the quantity of this money will be greater, and sometimes it will be less; but, in no case do I see, that machinery can possibly do the journeyman lace-maker any harm. Suppose, for instance, that the sum which the whole nation have to expend in lace, be 100,000 pounds a year; that the number of yards of lace be 500,000; and that the making of the lace, at 40l. a family, give employment to 2500 families. The lace by the means of machinery can be made, it is supposed, at 4s. a yard. But, destroy all machinery, and then the lace cannot be made, perhaps under 20s. a yard. What would the effect of this be? No advantage to you; because, as there is only 100,000l. a-year to spare to be expended in lace, there would be a demand for only one hundred thousand yards, instead of five hundred thousand yards. There would still be 2500 families employed in lace-making, at 40l. a-year for each family; but, at any rate, no advantage could possibly arise to you from the change, because the whole quantity of money expended in lace must remain the same.

Precisely the same must it be with regard to the stocking and all other manufactures. But, while the destruction of machinery would produce no good to you with regard to the home trade, it would produce a great deal of harm to you with regard to the foreign trade; because it would make your goods so high in price, that other nations, who would very soon have the machinery, would be able to make the same goods at a much lower price.

I think, then, that it is quite clear, that the existence of machinery, to its present extent, cannot possibly do the journeyman manufacturer any harm; Edition: current; Page: [25] but, on the contrary, that he must be injured by the destruction of machinery. And, it appears to me equally clear, that if machines could be invented so as to make lace, stockings, &c. for half or a quarter the present price, such an improvement could not possibly be injurious to you. Because, as the same sum of money would still, if the country continued in the same state, be laid out in lace, stockings, &c., there would be a greater quantity of those goods sold and used, and the sum total of your wages would be exactly the same as it is now.

But, if machinery were injurious to you now, it must always have been injurious to you; and there have been times, when you had no great reason to complain of want of employment at any rate. So that it is evident, that your distress must have arisen from some other cause or causes. Indeed, I know that this is the case; and, as it is very material that you should have a clear view of these causes, I shall enter into a full explanation of them; because, until we come at the nature of the disease, it will be impossible for us to form any opinion as to the remedy.

Your distress, that is to say, that which you now more immediately feel, arises from want of employment with wages sufficient for your support. The want of such employment has arisen from the want of a sufficient demand for the goods you make. The want of a sufficient demand for the goods you make has arisen from the want of means in the nation at large to purchase your goods. This want of means to purchase your goods has arisen from the weight of the taxes co-operating with the bubble of paper-money. The enormous burden of taxes and the bubble of paper-money have arisen from the war, the sinecures, the standing army, the loans, and the stoppage of cash payments at the Bank; and it appears very clearly to me, that these never would have existed, if the Members of the House of Commons had been chosen annually by the people at large.

Now, in order to show, that taxes produce poverty and misery generally, let us suppose again the case of a great-patriarchal family. This family we suppose to consist of many men and their wives and children; we suppose them all to labour in their different branches; and to enjoy each of them the same degree of wealth and comfort and ease. But all at once, by some means or other, nine or ten of the most artful men make shift to impose a tax upon the rest; and to get from them, in this way enough to support themselves and their wives and children without any work at all. Is it not clear, that the taxed part of the community must work harder or fare worse in consequence of this change? Suppose this taxing work to go on, and the receivers of taxes to increase, till one-half of the whole of the produce of all the labour be taken in taxes. What misery must the payers of taxes then begin to endure? It is certain, that they must be punished in two ways; first by an addition to the hardness of their work, and next by a reduction of their former food and clothing. They must, under such circumstances, necessarily become skinny, sick, ragged and dirty. For, you will observe, that those who would live upon the taxes, would each of them eat and drink and wear ten times as much as one of the poor mortals who were left to labour and to pay taxes. As these poor creatures would be unable to lay up anything against a day of sickness and old age, a poor-house must be built to prevent them from actually dying by the road-side, and a part of the taxes must be laid out to support them, in some way or other, till they expired, or, if children, till they should be able to work.

Edition: current; Page: [26]

There can be no doubt, that such would be the effect of heavy taxation in this case; and the same reasoning applies to millions of families, only the causes and effects are a little more difficult to trace. Now, you will observe, that I do not say, that no taxes ought to be collected. Our vile enemies impute this to me; but, my friends, I have never said it or thought it. In a large community of men, there must be laws to protect the weak against the strong; there must be administrators of the laws; there must be persons to hold communications with foreign powers; there must be, in case of necessary wars, a public force to carry on such wars. All these require taxes of some sort; but when the load of taxes becomes so heavy as to produce general misery amongst all those who pay and who do not receive taxes, then it is that taxes become an enormous evil.

This is our state at present. It is the sum taken from those who labour to be given to those who do not labour, which has produced all our present misery. It has been proved by me, but, which is better for us, it has been expressly acknowledged by Mr. Preston, who is a lawyer of great eminence, the owner of a large estate in Devonshire, and a Member of Parliament for a Borough, that the labourer who earns 18 pounds a year, pays 10 pounds of it in taxes. I have before observed, but I cannot repeat it too often, that you pay a tax on your shoes, soap, candles, salt, sugar, coffee, malt, beer, bricks, tiles, tobacco, drugs, spirits, and, indeed, on almost every thing you use in any way whatever. And, it is a monstrous cheat in the corrupt writers to attempt to persuade you, that you pay no taxes, and, upon that ground to pretend, that you have no right to vote for Members of Parliament. In the single article of salt, it is very clear to me, that every one of our labourers who has a family, pays more than a pound every year. The salt is sold in London at 20s. a bushel, wholesale; but, if there was no tax, it would not exceed perhaps 3s. a bushel. Every labourer with a family must consume more than a bushel, which does not amount to more than the third part of half-a-pint a day; and, you will bear in mind, there is salt in the bacon, the butter, and the bread, besides what is used in the shape of salt.

Now, is it not clear, then, that you do pay taxes? And, is it not also clear, that the sum, which you pay in taxes, is just so much taken from your means of purchasing food and clothes? This brings us back to the cause of your want of employment with sufficient wages. For, while you pay heavy taxes, the landlord, the farmer, the tradesman, the merchant, are not exempt. They pay taxes upon all the articles which they use and consume, and they pay direct taxes besides, on their houses, lands, horses, servants, &c. Now, if they had not to pay these taxes, is it not clear, that they would have more money to expend upon labour of various kinds; and, of course, that they would purchase more stockings and more lace than they now purchase? A farmer’s wife and daughters, who would lay out 10 pounds in these articles, cannot so lay it out, if it be taken away by the tax-gatherer; and so it is in the case of the landlord and the tradesman. I know a country town, where a couple of hundred of pounds used to be expended on a fair-day, in cottons, woollens, gloves, linen, &c. and where, at the last fair, not fifty pounds were expended. The country-shopkeeper not wanting the goods to the same amount as before, the London wholesale dealer does not want them to that amount; and as he does not want them from your employers, they do not want your labour to the same amount as before. So that they are compelled to refuse you work, or, to give you work at low wages, or, to give away to you their Edition: current; Page: [27] property and means of supporting themselves and their families, which, in reason and justice cannot be expected.

Then, there is another very injurious effect produced by this load of taxes. The goods made by you cannot be so cheap as if you and your employers had not so heavy taxes to pay. Thus foreign nations, which are not so much loaded with taxes, can afford to make the goods themselves as cheap, or cheaper, than you can make them. Formerly, when our taxes were light, the Americans, for instance, could not afford to make stockings, broadcloth, cutlery, cotton goods, glass wares, linens. They now make them all, and to a vast extent! They have machinery of all sorts, manufactories upon a large scale, and, what is quite astonishing, they, who, before our wars against the French people, did not grow wool sufficient in quantity for their hats and saddle-pads, grow now fine wool sufficient for their own manufactories of cloth, and to export to Europe!

This change has been produced wholly by the late wars, and more especially by our Orders in Council and by our impressment of native American seamen, which last produced the war with America, to carry on which both parties, the INS and the OUTS, most cordially joined. That war finished what the Orders in Council had begun. It compelled the Americans to manufacture; and, in order to protect their own manufactories, the Government of that country has naturally passed laws to check the import of ours. Thus it is, my good friends, that the manufacturers of England, Scotland, and Ireland, have lost a considerable part of the custom of ten millions of farmers and farmers’ wives and children. I foresaw this consequence in 1811; and I most earnestly, at that time, in a series of Letters to the Prince Regent, besought the Government not to enter into that fatal war. It was, however, entered into; my advice was rejected, and the manufacturers and merchants of this kingdom are now tasting the bitter fruit of that disgraceful war, which, after having cost about fifty millions of money, was given up in the teeth of a solemn declaration to the contrary, without having effected any one of the objects for which it was professed to have been begun and prosecuted.

Thus, then, my fellow-countrymen, it is not machinery; it is not the grinding disposition of your employers; it is not improvements in machinery; it is not extortions on the part of bakers and butchers and millers and farmers and corn-dealers, and cheese and butter sellers. It is not to any causes of this sort that you ought to attribute your present great and cruel sufferings; but wholly and solely to the great burden of taxes, co-operating with the bubble of paper-money. And now, before I proceed any further, let me explain to you how the paper-money, or funding-system has worked us all. This is a very important matter, and it is easily understood by any man of plain good sense, who will but attend to it for a moment.

Before the wars against the French people, which wars have ended in replacing our king’s and country’s old enemies, the family of Bourbon, on the thrones of France, Spain, and Naples, and which have restored the Inquisition that Napoleon had put down; before those wars, the chief part of the money in England, was gold and silver. But, even the first war against the people of France cost so much money, that bank-paper was used in such great abundance that, in 1797, people became alarmed, and ran to the Bank of England to get real money for the notes which they held. Then was fulfilled the prophecy of Mr. Paine. The Bank could not pay their notes; the Bank Directors went to Pitt Edition: current; Page: [28] and told him their fears. He called a Council, and the Council issued an order to the Bank to refuse to pay their promissory notes in specie, though the notes were all payable to the bearer and on demand. The Parliament afterwards passed an Act to protect Pitt, the Council, and the Bank Directors against the law, which had been violated in these transactions?

From this time, there has been little besides paper-money. This became plenty, and of course wages and corn and every thing became high in price. But, when the peace came, it was necessary to reduce the quantity of paper-money; because, when we came to have intercourse with foreign nations, it would never do to sell a one-pound note at Calais, as was the case, for about thirteen shillings. The Bank and the Government had it in their power to lessen the quantity of paper. Down came prices in a little while; and if the Debt and taxes had come down too in the same degree, there would have been no material injury; but, they did not. Taxes have continued the same. Hence our ruin; the complete ruin of the great mass of farmers and tradesmen and small landlords; and hence the misery of the people.

But, some of the taxes have been taken off. Yes; about 17 millions out of 70, or about a fourth part. But, the paper-money has been diminished in a greater degree, and, of course, farm-produce in the same degree as paper-money. Bread and corn sell pretty high, owing to a bad harvest; but we must take all the produce of a farm, and you will soon see how the farmer has been ruined.

BEFORE. £ s. d. A load of Wheat 33 0 0 A cart Colt 2 years old 38 0 0 A Cow 22 0 0 A Southdown Ewe 1 18 0 A Steer for fatting 15 0 0 £109 18 0
NOW. £ s. d. A load of Wheat 10 0 0 A Cart Colt 2 years old 17 0 0 A Cow 7 0 0 A Southdown Ewe 0 18 0 A Steer for fatting 6 0 0 £40 18 0

Thus, our produce has fallen off 69l. out of 109l. 18s. 0d., and our taxes have been reduced only 17l. in every 70l. This has been the effect of the paper-money bubble. I speak this with a certain knowledge of the facts. I myself have 8 beautiful Alderney heifers, with calf, for which I cannot obtain 4l. each. Four years ago I could have sold just such for 16l. each. I have 12 Scotch steers, for which I cannot obtain 5l. each. Just such ones, at Barnet Fair, only in 1813, I saw sold for 13l. each. This has been the effect of paper-money; and by this cause have thousands Edition: current; Page: [29] upon thousands of farmers been already wholly ruined, while thousands upon thousands more are upon the threshold of the jail.

Here, then, we have the real causes of our sufferings, the sufferings of all the labourers, all the farmers, all the tradesmen, and, in short, of every class, except those who live upon the taxes.

If, as I observed before, the taxes had been lowered in the same degree as the farm produce, the distress would not have been much greater than before; that is to say, if the sum total of the year’s taxes had been reduced from 70 millions to about 26 millions. But this could not be done, while the interest of the Debt was paid in full at 5 per cent., while an army of 150 thousand men was kept up; and while all the pensions and sinecures and the Civil List were kept up to their former amount; and, besides these, all the pay of the naval and military people and all others living, in any way, upon the taxes.

And, why should such an army be kept up? There was a time, when a man would have been looked upon as mad, if he had proposed to keep up any standing soldiery at all in time of peace. But, why not reduce pay and salaries? The Judges, for instance, had their salaries doubled during the war, and so had the Police Justices and many others. When the Whigs (the famous Whigs!) were in office, they augmented the allowances of the junior branches of the Royal Family from 12 thousand pounds each to 18 thousand pounds each per year. The allowance to the King, Queen, &c. called the Civil List, was augmented enormously. Now, you will observe, that all these augmentations were made upon the express ground, that the price of provisions had risen. Well, provisions fall, and down come the wages of journeymen and labourers; and why, in the name of reason and of justice, should not the salaries of the Judges, and the pay and allowances of all others in public employ come down too? What reason can there be for keeping all these up, while your wayes have come down?

Then, as to the DEBT, why should those who have lent their money to the Government to carry on the wars; why should they continue to be paid in full at 5 per cent. interest in the present money? It is the bubble of paper-money; it is the bubble which they have helped to make, which has reduced my Alderney heifers from 16l. value to 4l., and why am I and you and all the rest of us to pay them as much as we used to pay them? The greater part of them lent their money to the Government, when the pound-note was not worth more than half what it is worth now, if we take all circumstances into view; and, what right, then, have they to be paid in full in the money of the present day? Yet, they are paid in full, and I am compelled to give them as much tax out of the price of a heifer worth 4 pounds, as I used to give them out of the price of the heifer worth 16 pounds. You will see, and you will feel most severely, that corn is now dear. But, this is owing to the short crop and bad harvest. This high price is no good to the farmer; but a most terrible evil. If he should get 15s. a bushel for his wheat instead of 7s. or 8s., he will receive no more money; because he will not have more than half the quantity to sell. If I sell a hog at 15s. a score, instead of 8s., I do not gain by the high price; because, I am, from the shortness of my crop of corn, and the badness of the corn, not able to fat more than half as many hogs as I should have been able to fat, if the crop had been good and the harvest fine. So that, as you will clearly see, as to the Edition: current; Page: [30] present high prices of corn and bread, that it cannot be any benefit at all to the farmer, and cannot at all tend to enable him to pay the enormous taxes that now press him out of existence.

Thus have I laid before you the real causes of your sufferings. You see, that they are deep-rooted, of steady growth, and that they never can end, but in consequence of some very material change in the mode of managing the nation’s concerns. They have arisen from the taxes and loans; those arose out of the wars; the wars arose out of a desire to keep down Reform; and a desire to keep down Reform arose out of the borough system, which excludes almost the whole of the people from voting at elections. It is a maxim of the English Constitution, that no man shall be taxed without his own consent. Nothing can be more reasonable than this. But, as I have shown, we are all taxed; you pay away half your wages in taxes; but, do you all vote for Members of Parliament? If the Members of Parliament, for the last fifty years, had been chosen by the people at large, and chosen annually, agreeably to the old laws of the nation, do you believe that we should have expended one thousand millions in taxes raised during the wars, and another thousand millions, which is now existing in the shape of a Debt? This is not to be believed; no man can believe it. And, therefore, as the want of such a Parliament is the real root of all our sufferings, the only effectual remedy is to obtain such a Parliament. A Parliament, annually chosen by all the people, seeing that they all pay taxes.

In 1780 the late Duke of Richmond brought a Bill into the House of Lords to restore the people to their right of having such a Parliament. Pitt co-operated in this work with the Duke of Richmond; and Pitt expressly declared, in a speech in Parliament, that, until the Parliament was reformed, it was “impossible for English Ministers to be honest.” Therefore, this is no new scheme; it is a measure long contended for and well-digested; it may be carried into effect with perfect safety to every rank in society; and it is my firm persuasion, that it is the only means of preserving order and peace. Indeed, I am of opinion, that it is the hope of seeing this measure adopted; that it is the expectation that it will be adopted, which now preserves that tranquillity in the country, which is so honourable to the understanding and the hearts of the people. God send that this expectation may not be disappointed!

In order that it may not, the people of every class should assemble and petition the Parliament for Reform. No matter how many, or how few; no matter whether in counties, cities, towns, villages or hamlets. We have all a right to petition; to perform that right is a sacred duty; and to obstruct it a heinous crime. But in these petitions, the only essential object should be a Reform; for, though the want of it has produced numerous and great evils, still this is all that need be petitioned for, seeing that a Reform would cure all the evils at once. Trade, commerce, manufactures, agriculture, all would soon revive, and we should again see our country free and happy. But, without a Reform, it is impossible for the nation to revive, and, I believe, it is also impossible to prevent utter confusion.

How vain, how stupid, then, are all the schemes of the writers on the side of corruption for making employment for the poor! And how base all their attempts to persuade the people, that their sufferings can be alleviated by what are called “charitable subscriptions,” which are, in Edition: current; Page: [31] fact, only so many acts of insolence towards the numerous and unhappy sufferers, who are paying, in the shape of taxes, one-half of the little that they earn by their labour!

These corrupt writers, in order still to cajole and deceive the people, (who, thank God! are no longer to be deceived) recommended to the landlords and farmers to make employment for the poor, by causing commodious roads, footpaths, and causeways to be undertaken; by causing shell-fish to gathered for manure; by causing lime, chalk, marl, &c., to be gotten and prepared; by causing land to be drained and embankments made! What folly, or what an impudent attempt to deceive! Why, these are some of the very things that the poor would be employed in if the landlords and farmers had money to give in wages; and, if they have not money to give in wages, how are they to have money to bestow in these works at all?

As to the “charity subscriptions,” the people seem to understand the object of them perfectly well. Lord Cochrane sent them forth to the nation, stripped of their mask, for which we are deeply indebted to him, and which debt of gratitude we are not so base as not to pay. The people of Glasgow led the way in their indignation against the soup-shop and its kettle. At Wigan, at Oldham, and several other places, where meetings of the subscription tribe have been held, the people have told them, that they want not soup and old bones and bullock’s liver; but they want their rights. Indeed, these attempts to hold pretended charitable meetings are full of insolence. Those who are enabled to work, or to find work, have a legal right to be supported out of taxes raised on the rich and on all houses and all lands. Why, then, are they to be held out as beggars? Why are self-erected bodies to insult them with their pretended charity? It is not the poor, who have brought the nation into its present state. It is not they who have ruined so many farmers and tradesmen. The law says that they shall be relieved; and, why are they to look to any other relief than this, until the state of the nation can be amended?

But, before I conclude, let me beg your attention to a very curious fact or two as to the employment of the taxes which you and all of us pay. In an Address to Journeymen and Labourers in general (inserted at page 1 of these Selections), I noticed, that, in the account which was laid before Parliament in the year 1815, there was a charge for money paid to suffering French and Dutch Emigrants, and also to the poor clergy of the Church of England. But, I observed, that I did not know whether any such charges were contained in the accounts laid before Parliament this year, 1816; I have that account before me now, and what will be your feelings, how will you feel towards the soup-kettle fraternities, when you are told, that there is, in this last account, a charge of seventy-five thousand pounds for the relief of French and Dutch Emigrants, and of one hundred thousand pounds for the poor clergy of the Church of England! This is, you will observe, quite a new thing. Never till the time of Perceval was any Minister bold enough to take money, or to get the Parliament to vote money out of the taxes, paid by the poor as well as the rich, to be given to the poor clergy of a church, whose dignitaries and beneficed people are bursting with wealth, and who receive in various ways, more than five millions a year! What! And have these subscription gentry the impudence to look you in the face while these things exist? Have they the impudence to talk of their charity towards you, Edition: current; Page: [32] while they say not a word against seeing you taxed to help to make up the immense sums thus given in charity to the French and Dutch Emigrants, and to the clergy of the Church of England? Put these pithy questions to the insolent societies of the soup-kettle, and tell me what they can say in their defence. What! Are you to come crawling, like sneaking curs, to lick up alms to the amount of forty or fifty thousand pounds, round the brim of a soup-kettle, while you are taxed, with the rest of us, to the amount of one hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds, in order to give relief to French and Dutch Emigrants, and to the poor clergy of the Church of England! I do hope, that there are none of my countrymen who will be so base. I trust that they have yet English blood enough left in their veins to make them reject such alms with scorn and indignation.

If I had room, I would lay before you an account of some of the other articles of expense, to defray which you are taxed; but, as I intend, within three or four weeks, to show you how all the taxes are expended. I shall now conclude this long letter by expressing my hope, that it will be proved by your subsequent conduct not to have been written wholly in vain.

For past errors I make all possible allowance. We all fall into errors enough naturally; and, no wonder that you should have adopted erroneous notions, seeing that the corrupt press has, for so many years, been at work to deceive and mislead you. This base press, knowing what would be the inevitable consequence of your seeing the real causes of your calamities, has incessantly laboured to blind you, or to direct your eyes towards an imaginary cause. Machines, bakers, butchers, brewers, millers; anything but the taxes and the paper-money. In all the acts of violence, to which you have been led by these vile hirelings, you have greatly favoured the cause of corruption, which is never so much delighted as at the sight of troops acting against the people. Let me, therefore, most earnestly beseech you to think seriously on these matters; to stay the hand of vengeance against your townsmen and countrymen, and to harbour that feeling to the latest hour of your lives against all that is corrupt and detestable. I have taken the liberty freely to offer you my advice, because I have full confidence in your good sense and your public spirit. The hirelings have endeavoured to exasperate you by their revilings and menaces; I, knowing that brave men are not to be abused or bullied into compliance, have endeavoured to gain you by an appeal to your sense of honour and of justice. The hirelings call aloud for sending forth penal statutes and troops to put you down; I send you the most persuasive arguments my mind can suggest, and all the kindest wishes of my heart.

And, with these wishes, I hope I shall always remain,

Your friend,
Edition: current; Page: [33]
William Cobbett
Cobbett, William


On the divers Expedients, which have been brought forth, under the sanction of his Lordship, for the Employing and Relieving of the Poor.—Also the late Disturbances, and on the Meeting of the Londoners in Spa-Fields.

My Lord Mayor,

When I call to your Lordship’s recollection, for, perhaps, you may have forgotten them, the many acts of kindness which I have personally received at your hands, and especially when I lead you back to that interesting moment of my life, when, owing to your interposition, I was relieved from the intolerable pain of associating with those felons, amongst whom the Judges of the Court of King’s Bench had doomed me to the chance of living for two years, because I had written and published a paragraph about the flogging of the Local Militia in the Isle of Ely; when I lead your Lordship’s mind back to that moment and make you again behold the tears of gratitude in the eyes of my wife and children, I am sure, you will be convinced, that nothing short of a sense of imperious duty to my country could urge me publicly to express even a difference of opinion with you upon any matter of public importance.

A little son of mine came to me one day, exclaiming: “Papa! I saw Mr. Wood in a golden coach! In a real golden coach! It was, indeed, it was!—It was a coach all made of gold!” “Yes,” said I, “James, but you seem to have overlooked the best part of the thing.” “What was that?” “Why, it was the kind and honest and patriotic heart of Mr. Wood himself, which is much more worthy of admiration than all the golden coaches and gold chains in the world.” Thousands, I dare say, are the roofs, beneath which your benevolence has excited feelings of gratitude; but I am not afraid to assert, that in that feeling all who belong to me are exceeded by none of the thousands who entertain that feeling towards you.

Therefore, you will be well assured, that it is not without pain, that I publicly dissent from any well-known opinion of yours, notwithstanding I am too well assured of your sound sense and your candour, not to be confident that you will hear with patience, and without any mixture of anger, my reasons for such dissent.

When a miserable object presents himself before our eyes; when hunger and nakedness show themselves before us: when the parting soul seems only to linger on the pale and quivering lip, it does not require a heart so benevolent as yours to send the hand of the beholder speedily to the purse or pantry in search of the means of instantaneous relief. But, my Lord Mayor, this is not a point upon which any human being can differ with you. We are all now engaged in this sort of work. There Edition: current; Page: [34] are none of my neighbours who do not share what they have with the innumerable beggars who now visit us. I used to be very scrupulous on this head: used to make very strict inquiries, and very seldom give relief to any but late soldiers and sailors and soldiers’ and sailors’ wives and children. This was my rule; but the floods of misery have broken in upon us in such a way as to render it impossible to live in our houses and endure the sights we behold, without sharing our victuals and drink with every one who comes on the dismal errand of beggary. This is not the case with me in particular. It is the general practice of all my neighbours who have a morsel to spare; and, it is, because it must, be the general practice in every part of the kingdom. Our very servants and labourers participate in this work of relieving. The wretchedness they behold overpowers every sense of their own conveniences and wants.

It is not, therefore, my Lord Mayor, the acts of real charity, which you are so zealously promoting, the wisdom of which I call in question; for, if such acts are unwise, we are all guilty of folly. But, what I disapprove of is, the bringing forward and the adopting of public plans for relief, the tendency of which is to cause the people to imbibe wrong notions with regard to the real cause of their miseries; and to lull the nation at large into the opinion, that the suffering is merely of a temporary nature. I know very well, that as far as you are concerned, there is no intention to deceive the people as to either of these points or as to any thing else; but I am equally well satisfied, that the tendency of such measures is to give a wrong bias to the public mind, and to retard those great and general measures, which can alone restore the nation to happiness, and which, in my opinion, can alone prevent calamities such as I shudder but to think of.

Before, however, I say more on the subject of giving relief in the shape of alms, give me leave to notice a few of the schemes which have been proposed to you for the finding of employment for the poor.

The want of employment has arisen from the want of means in the former consumers and employers, and, therefore, unless those former means can be restored, it is a pursuit worse than the vanity of vanities to attempt to discover employment. The corrupt part of the press, either from ignorance or from a desire to deceive, has called upon the gentlemen and farmers in the country, to employ the poor in making new and better roads, foot-paths, embankments, cleaning out of water-courses, and enclosing waste lands. Now all these things were going on a few years ago, till the cracking of the bubble of paper-money smote them like a burst from a shell. If you were now to ride from Whitchurch to Winchester, a distance of only about thirteen miles, you would see more than two thousand acres of land, which was enclosed a few years back, flung up again, and, not to bear grass, as it did before, but all kinds of worthless weeds. The same dismal change is taking place in every part of the kingdom.—And while this is going on; at the very moment when want of means is throwing immense tracts of land out of cultivation, the press of corruption is calling upon us to find employment for the poor in the enclosing of waste lands!

The same may be said, as to new or repaired highways, foot-paths, embankments, and water-courses. These are all improvements, and improvements must come out of a redundance of means. There is one parish in Monmouthshire, I am told, where every payer of king’s taxes, except one, was actually under distress for those taxes, a little while ago; Edition: current; Page: [35] and we know that the magistrates of that county have declared the impossibility for the people to pay the taxes, then due and becoming due. Now, my Lord Mayor, is it not madness or fraud unparalled for any one to hold out the hope of such people being able to find employment for the poor on works of ornament, or on works of distant utility?

It is the turning of men off from works of profit that has produced the misery amongst the labouring classes. How, then, can it be expected, that those who are unable to employ them on works of profit, will be able to employ them in any other works? The farmers of a particular parish, suppose them to be ten in number, have, we will suppose, turned off twenty of the men they formerly employed. Why have they done this? Because the weight of taxes, co-operating with the bubble of paper-money, have rendered each of them unable to pay so many men as they did before by two each. They used to employ these two men each in the works of draining, banking, grubbing hedge-rows, chalking, liming, marling, and in other works of improvement; but, they now cannot afford to employ them in this way. What, then, must we think of the proposition to call upon these same farmers to employ the same men in works of ornament, or in the making of public roads, or the cleansing of brooks and rivers? What must we think of the proposition to induce a farmer to find five pounds to lay out upon public works, when he cannot get the five pounds to expend upon his own works? The idea is so absurd, that it can have originated only in a disordered mind, or in a desire to deceive the people, and to hide from them the real causes of the want of employment and of the consequent distress and beggary that now prevail.

You are not wholly unacquainted with country affairs yourself, and you have the advantage to know and hear persons of great experience, and knowledge in such affairs; and, I am very certain, that their accounts of our situation will substantially accord with mine. They will also inform you, that the monstrous depreciation in the value of lean animals upon a farm, has produced a corresponding want of employment. A great multitude of labourers were employed in the works connected with the rearing of stock. One-half of this multitude are now unemployed, because the rearing of stock is now what farmers in general cannot afford to lay out money in. Their capitals are called away for the payment of taxes. To keep a heifer, a steer, a lamb, or a colt, until fit for use is out of the power of great numbers. And, thus, that vast source of individual and national wealth is undergoing a most alarming diminution. The amount of this diminution will, in a few years, if the present system continue, be discoverable in symptoms the most humiliating to us, and indeed, the most degrading to our character in the world. Instead of the farm-yard and its surrounding closes teeming with animal life; filled with pigs, lambs, calves, and colts, with dams and young ones of all sorts and sizes, we shall see, and we already begin to see, docks and thistles and uncovered sheds. All seems to be going to waste and speedily converting itself into sterility. There is no species of wealth or power which does not spring from Agriculture; and, if that decline, all must decline; if that perish, all must perish. The persons employed in trade, commerce, navigation and manufactures often appear to think, that they have interests separate from those of the farmer. This must have been Mr. Waithman’s view of the matter, when, in opposing the Corn Bill, he stated, that agriculture had had its days of prosperity, and that the turn of trade and manufactures was now come. I opposed the Corn Bill Edition: current; Page: [36] too: but, upon very different grounds; and I then warned Mr. Waithman in print, that if the turn of agriculture to suffer was come, the ruin of trade and of manufacture must also come. How fatally true has Mr. Waithman found this to be!

Therefore, my Lord Mayor, expedients are useless in the first place, because they cannot remove so deep-rooted and wide-spreading an evil.

And in the second place, they are mischievous, because they divert the attention of the people from the real and only remedy, and thereby tend to prolong the evil, till it shall have become too monstrous and inveterate to admit of a peaceful cure.

Of the schemes, for finding employment, which have been submitted to you, my Lord Mayor, and which have gone forth under the sanction of your respected name, not one appears to me to have reason to recommend it. I dare say, that Mr. Salisbury meant well in proposing to employ the poor in the collecting of the seeds of Cocks-foot grass, and that he really did pay 3s. 6d. to a man, who, in a few hours, collected some in Hyde Park. But, if Mr. Salisbury will purchase that seed of me at the same rate, I will engage that he shall, next fall, have as much sent to him in a day as shall be sold in all England in ten years. Besides, as there is only so much money to be laid out in grass seeds of all sorts every year, it must necessarily follow, that the labour employed in obtaining the other sorts would fall off in the exact proportion, in which the Cocks-foot labour would increase, and, that, therefore, on a general view of the matter, no good could possibly arise from this diversion of labour.

Mr. Pettigrew meant well, I dare say. But is there not a sufficiency of field weeds and simples collected already? If more hands be employed in the collection of simples, the wages of collection must be lowered; for (and I beg you bear this principle in mind) there are no means, other than those attendant on a return of general prosperity, that can possibly add to the aggregate sum expended upon simples. As to the making of cordage out of nettles, hop-binds, &c. the thought is very old. The thing has been frequently tried. No doubt of its practicability; and it is also practicable to dig potatoes with a golden spade! But, what would be the good? It would not add to the sum of money annually expended in cordage? Less cordage would be made in all probability; or, if the alteration produced no harm, it could not possibly produce any good. The discovery of the pith of rushes being to be obtained in our boggy land, and being applicable to domestic purposes in lieu of candles, comes as a discovery rather late; for I have not yet forgotten, that, more than forty years ago, my dear old grandmother Cobbett, used to light me to bed, and to mend my stockings, by one of these very rushes, which she used to dip in grease, and keep in a long piece of oak bark, suspended against her cottage wall, just by the side of her wooden salt box. But the notable wives of our labourers in Hampshire still do the same; and, I have lately heard, that they are obliged to leave a slip of the green rind of the rush not wholly covered by the grease, for fear of the Exciseman, one of whom recently told a labourer’s wife upon visiting her manufactory, that if her rushes had another dip, they would have been seized as candles!

Ah! My Lord Mayor! This and things like this, are worthy of your attention! Here we see the real cause of all our miseries; and not in the importation of flag or willow baskets; for, your Lordship may be well assured, that, it is not money which is sent to Holland and Edition: current; Page: [37] to France to purchase the baskets, of the importation of which the shallow, though probably humane Mr. Salisbury, complained, but goods, made by the hands of our ingenious manufacturers, and made, for the greater part, out of the wool and flax grown on the surface, or out of the ore and the coals dug from the bowels of our soil. Mr. Salisbury would, apparently, push us back a little towards the rudeness of savage life. The converting of twigs and flag rushes into utensils is of the description of the manufactures, carried on by the Indians of North America. We barter with those rude people our products for theirs; but a knife or a pair of scissars will purchase the fruit of half a year of their labours; and, probably, a few ounces of some of our works in steel are equal in value to, and will exchange for, a waggon load of the baskets which come from Holland or from France. What folly then, to imagine that any relief to our manufacturers can arise from our wearing none but English goods! Whatever is imported is exchanged for exported goods of some sort or other; and, therefore, in whatever degree we discourage the import of the goods of other nations, we discourage and prevent the export of our own. Foreign nations will naturally imitate our apparently selfish regulations; but, whether they imitate the regulations or not, the effect will, in the long run, be the same; and, it is truly pitiful to see a Court Order for the wearing of English manufactures at two birth-day balls, and to see the Prince’s birth-day changed from August to March, with a view of relieving the sufferings of the nation! Good God! How much more likely to answer that purpose would be a great diminution of that Civil List, and of all those salaries, sinecures, allowances, and grants, which are paid out of the taxes, and which are received by those very persons who wear court-dresses! But, more upon this subject by and by.

Your Lordship is reported, in the newspapers, to have brought forward, or patronised, a plan for furnishing the poor with fuel made of a composition, consisting of clay and cinders, or small-coals. This plan was to have a two-fold effect: the employing of thousands of poor, and the economizing of fuel. Now, my Lord Mayor, if you could by such a scheme reduce the quantity of coals used to one-half of the present quantity, what havoc would you make amongst the coal-miners and the seamen, which last are the most miserable class of this most miserable nation. In whatever degree this new manufacture of fuel found employment for the poor of London, it would destroy the employment of those employed in digging and conveying coals. “Rob Peter to pay Paul.” That is the maxim of all those who project any other means of relief than the reduction of taxes.

But, is cheapness of fuel the object? My Lord Mayor, it is impossible to discover any thing so cheap as coals, even with all the taxes with which they are loaded. Whatever of the burning quality the new manufacture may contain must come from the coal-pit, after all. Clay may make the combustible matter more slow in its evaporation, but clay, thus used, will never add one particle of heat. Far cheaper would it be to bring turf or peat from Bagshot Heath, where only digging and drying is necessary to make a blazing fuel. But little trouble as it is to obtain peat, peat, even used on the spot, is not so cheap as coals brought from Newcastle and taxed into the bargain. From Bagshot Heath I, when a boy, used to assist in fetching excellent peat, which was the fuel of my father’s house, at four miles distance. Through the very valley, whence Edition: current; Page: [38] I used to fetch that peat, there now runs a canal from London to Basingstoke; and, within 400 yards of the spot where we used to dig the peat, there are very fine coal-wharfs. Farewell the peat-digging! Though you may have the peat for the digging, no one digs any more! What a fine thing to behold! That Cumberland should send, and through a tax too, fuel into Surrey at so cheap a rate, that the people prefer buying it to the using of the product of their own country, though they can have it without buying! But, the fact is, my Lord Mayor, they did buy their peat; that is to say, they had to pay for the digging and carting and housing, and they soon found, that it would cost them less to keep a fire of coals. At Botley it is cheaper to buy coals than to cart even good wood two or three miles, though you have it given to you. I purchase coals for the use of a large farm-house, where a great deal of steaming is also carried on: I fetch these coals more than two miles by land; and this I do while I can have wood for the mere carting, and while I have thousands and hundred thousands of loads of peat at 200 yards from the spot. The coals are cheapest. A wood-fire, though in our woody-country, is an expensive luxury. In better times I used to burn my own wood: the hardness of the times has induced me to buy coals!

No, my Lord Mayor, these plans are all futile. If, indeed, you had proposed to the city to relinquish their tax upon coals, that would have been doing something, especially as I do not perceive very clearly, why the coals that enter the Thames should be taxed, any more than those which enter the mouth of any other river. However, even this would be doing so very little, that it would hardly be felt. It is the general weight of taxes and the paper-money bubble which have produced all the misery; and, until those be removed, there will be no regular and settled means of employment for those who now want employ.

As to the Soup Establishments, or any other means of rescuing poor, starving creatures from the jaws of death, no one can, in that light, disapprove of them, any more than he can disapprove of our giving victuals at our doors. But, my Lord Mayor, all meetings, which are held for the considering of means to be adopted for the relief of the poor, are BLAMEABLE, if the real causes of the misery be passed over in silence, because, in that case, the people are deluded, as far as such meeting can delude them, into a false hope of permanent relief.

If you have done me the honour to read this work for some years past, you must have seen, that all which has now come to pass has been regularly foretold; and that effect after effect have followed cause after cause, the Register always keeping on about a year in advance of the events. That which we now see is nothing unnatural, nothing surprising: it is the inevitable result of the public measures that have been pursued; and which measures no man has more decidedly disapproved of than yourself. Therefore, my Lord Mayor, you appear to me to be wanting in justice, not to any other persons, but to be wanting in bare justice to yourself, when you disclaim all political considerations, and seem to cast the blame of producing our miseries upon that non-descript thing called “the times.” The times! What mean the times? We have no new sort of time. Summer and Winter, Spring and Autumn, Day and Night, still continue to come in their turn as usual. It is, therefore, measures; it is a something, done somehow, by some body, which has produced all this misery, and I have a right, and so have you, to assert that this misery Edition: current; Page: [39] could have been prevented, because we, with many others, sought to prevent the causes of the misery.

I am, therefore, wholly at a loss, my Lord Mayor, to discover the grounds upon which you forego the advantage now offered you of asserting your claim to political foresight and rectitude. Your merits as a magistrate are, I dare say, very great; but it was not for those merits that you were re-elected. You were re-elected on account of your well-known political principles; and, had not that been the case, your re-election would have been a matter of no moment to the country. I know your political principles remain unaltered; but, why, in this dreadful moment, when the very peace of the kingdom hangs by a thread, should those excellent principles be allowed to sleep, especially as those of our enemies never sleep either day or night! Why is the effect of these principles to be suspended till the time when your power shall become less than it is now? Your Lordship has seen a great many Pittite Lord Mayors. Did any one of them ever let his principles sleep for the year? Besides, what cause is so great as the cause of our country? How is it possible that we can lay our principles on the shelf for a year, or for a day?

The point I aim at is this; that, at no meeting, held under your auspices, for the relief of the poor, ought the causes of their sufferings to pass unnoticed, unmarked, unreprobated, by you above all men in the kingdom. What! have you, for so many years, been the forwardest of the most forward to remonstrate against the fatal system by which we have finally been plunged into ruin; have you, upon so many occasions, took the lead in telling the King and the Parliament, that national misery would be the result of the measures that were pursuing; and now, when this misery is actually arrived, shall you, having the best of means to make your voice heard, keep silence upon the subject of the causes of this misery? Nay, shall we see you sit quiet, while you hear details and discussions, calculated to make the people believe, that their miseries may be removed without that radical change in the system, for the absolute necessity of which you have so long been most gallantly contending?

My Lord Mayor, I beg you to be well assured, that, in a case like yours, there is no neutrality. I know you will not abandon your principles; I know you will not change; I know that your attachment to the liberties of your country will always remain unshaken. But in a case like yours, there can be no neutrality; no suspension of exertion, without great injury to your country. A man like me might retire when he pleased. I owe the people nothing, while, if they have derived any knowledge from my exertions, they owe me something. They have never given me their votes, nor do I stand pledged to them, any more than any one of them stands pledged to me. But the case is different with you. Very different indeed; for you are now placed aloft by the voice of the people; and, that which was before a mere matter of choice, now becomes a matter of duty, or, at least, very nearly approaching a duty.

It must be very evident to your Lordship, that there can be no end to the people’s sufferings, until some great change with regard to taxation shall take place. At the opening of the last session of Parliament, the speech described the country as in a state of prosperity, and the first business of the House of Commons was to vote vast sums of money to erect monuments to commemorate the glories of that war, which had ended in the restoration of the Bourbons and the inquisition, and in Edition: current; Page: [40] adding eight hundred millions to the debt!—The Ministers, at first, denied that there was any distress in the country. They next asserted, that the undeniable distress was temporary. The corrupt writers have repeated that assertion; and, to this very hour, they repeat it, though the distress is every day becoming greater and greater, and appears, day after day, to be more durable in its nature; and though the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture have given in details, which prove the fact beyond all contradiction and all question.

How necessary is it, then, my Lord Mayor, that men like you should be always pointing to the real causes and to the only remedy! And, how fatal must the result be, if those causes be much longer disguised, and that remedy delayed! Mr. Vansittart said, at the opening of the last Session, that the Englishman must be base, indeed, who did not prefer the present situation of his country to the situation of his country previous to the war of 1793! What a mind must that gentleman have! How strange must be its composition! But, the truth is, he was ignorant of the situation of the country. He knew little about the matter. And, what have we to expect from any of the expedients that such men may have in reserve? Every day, no matter what the season of the year, must our situation become worse and worse. The mass of human misery must become greater and greater; and the danger to all property of every description become more and more imminent.

In such a state of things, the question is not, whether the present system be preferable to any that may be proposed; for the present system cannot last long. There must be a change of some sort; and the only question is, what sort of change that shall be. While, indeed, there was a possibility of keeping up the thing as it now stands, there was a colour for dissenting from every proposition for making a change; but, I am sure you will agree with me, that that possibility has now ceased.

The progress of our ruin has not been so rapid as some persons seem to imagine. It has been on foot for more than twenty years. From the year 1793 to the present day, the number of the paupers has been increasing. The farmers and tradesmen wore the appearance of prosperity; but it was a false appearance, arising from the bubble of paper-money. The decrease of taxation and of consequent pauperism was constantly at work in the bowels of the community. Family after family were pressed down into the list of paupers. Small farmers became labourers, and labourers went one after another to the poor-house. Small farm-houses, those numerous scenes of frugality, industry, morality and happiness, became, one after another, the scenes of the labourer’s misery. The lands went to stretch out the great farmer’s tracks or the nabob’s park. And the cottages of the labourers became sheds for cattle, or fell into rubbish, while poor-houses rose their heads aloft all over the country. During the sway of Pitt and his successors the houses and villas round the metropolis have been monstrously swelled in number; but during the same period how many thousands of happy hamlets have been wholly deserted and destroyed! This has been caused by that pernicious system of taxation and paper-money, which has huddled property together in great masses, and which has reduced to mere labourers almost the whole of the people. The property thus amassed, has become more immediately under the control of the Government; so that at last there exists a state of things from which the idea of private property is almost wholly excluded.

Edition: current; Page: [41]

In this state the peace found us, and then came the alteration in the value of the currency, which finished what was nearly approaching its end before. This alteration, which, in fact, doubled our taxes, has operated as an act of confiscation, as completely as any Act of Parliament under that title could have done. It has sent into the Gazette and into jails thousands upon thousands of men, the most industrious and the most punctual in the world. It has destroyed almost entirely that confidence, called trust, which made men’s words equal in value to money. As pinching poverty first broke through that honest pride of the labourer, which kept him from the parish; so this irresistible blow of paper-money has broken down that spirit amongst tradesmen and farmers, which used to produce such punctuality in the fulfilment of their engagements. After long struggling, they have been compelled to yield; and, at last, reputation for punctuality seems no longer to be the care of those, who were formerly punctuality itself.

Thus is the whole of society actually breaking up. Talk, indeed, of its being a breach of faith to lower the interest of the fundholder! Has not faith been broken with the farmer and the tradesman? The tradesman for instance, had, when the alteration in the currency took place, his shop and warehouse full of goods. He owed a sum of money upon these goods. All at once, in a moment, his goods were, by the bubble of paper-money, reduced one half in their sale amount. He must be ruined, unless he had money beyond the extent of his trade. Lead, for instance, and Iron, fell nearly one-half in price. What a blow to those who had had stocks of these goods on hand, and especially if they were trading, as most men do, to the full extent of their capital! And, my Lord Mayor, is there no pity for such men and their families? Has there been no breach of national faith with them? Are they to have no compassion? Are the fundholders to have all the consideration bestowed on them?

These are the causes that are at work in the producing and the reproducing of distress and misery; and, while I find no fault of any effort to afford immediate relief, especially to the poor starving sailors, I regret exceedingly, that your Lordship should preside at any meeting without taking care to expose these real causes of the misery. These causes must be removed before any remedy can be applied; and to be removed they must first be exposed; but, the soup-meetings, as now conducted, have a tendency to disguise these causes, and, therefore, a tendency to prolong the evil till a peaceable remedy shall become impossible. It must be clear to all the world that this soup-kettle work cannot go on for a series of years. It cannot, even if it were efficacious, be anything more than a mere temporary measure; it can last only for a short time; a considerable part of the population of a country, never can be fed by alms for any length of time. There must soon be an end to it, and how will it end; how is it to end; how must it end, if the cause of the misery respect, but, at the same time, with great earnestness, and with a most anxious desire that you would bestow on them your serious consideration.

My Lord Mayor, I will not call in question the motives of any individuals in contributing towards the soup-kettle fund. But, what will the world think of our situation, when the Ministers advise their Master to send 5000l. out of the Droits of Admiralty to help feed those whose wages are so heavily taxed? The East India Company has, it Edition: current; Page: [42] seems, subscribed the sum of 250l. That Company has received many millions out of those loans, which now form that Debt, which is the greatest of all the causes of our misery, and to help pay the interest of which the poor of Spitalfields are taxed, through almost every article which they consume. To maintain the authority of this Company a very considerable part of the Debt has been contracted. Not less, I am convinced, than 50 millions. Many millions, not less, I believe, than twelve millions, have been voted out of the taxes. I have not the official accounts at hand; but, I know that I do not exaggerate. These millions have been paid to that Company, directly out of the loans or taxes, no matter which. And, for what? I should be glad to know for what? The East Indians become immensely rich. They come home and purchase the houses and estates of the stupid country gentlemen, who have been ruined by taxation and funding; and yet, the nation has had to pay this Company of Merchants immense sums of money! It is my opinion, that the interest of that part of the Debt, which has been contracted on account of the East India Company, amounts to more than two millions a year; and this Company subscribes 250l. towards feeding with soup, those who contribute towards the paying of this very interest! Can this last? Can this be anything more than a miserable and abortive expedient?

And, as to the Bank and all those who are connected with it, have not they thriven upon the very means which have brought ruin upon the nation? Has not every change in the currency been advantageous to them? They have been the principal characters in the fatal drama. Was it the fault of persons engaged in agriculture and trade, that the stoppage of cash-payments took place in 1797? Was it our fault, or the fault of our workmen, that such immense quantities of paper came forth from 1797 to 1811? Was it our fault, that the paper was drawn in at the peace? No, surely; but, it is the nation which suffers for all these transactions; and suffer it must till the desolating causes be removed.

In the meanwhile misery is making a dreadful progress in the producing of acts of illegal violence, of which your Lordship has recently been but too good a witness, during those proceedings which filled the City of London with regular troops! A sight too humiliating to be contemplated without pain by any Englishman, and which must have been particularly painful to you, though you were, doubtless, convinced of the dire necessity. In a late Register I observed that it was not in the nature of our countrymen to be cruel or thievish. The city of Philadelphia, containing, including its surrounding villages, nearly 200,000 people, has seen only two men, and those two negroes, executed in the space of fifteen years. Not only are almost all the inhabitants of that fine city the descendants of English, Scotch, and Irish; but, a very large portion of them especially of the Irish, have actually gone from these countries to that country. So that it is impossible, that the multitude of crimes, in England, can have arisen out of the viciousness of our natures. I lived eight years in Philadelphia and New York; without ever hearing of a house being broken open, or of a murder being committed, in either city. And, I do not recollect, that, except in case of an election row, once or twice, that I ever heard of a single breach of the peace; to which let me add, that I never, while in the country, set my eyes on one single regular soldier!

Edition: current; Page: [43]

Now, my Lord Mayor, what can be the cause of a distinction so shockingly disgraceful to our country? There are nearly, at this time, as many people in the United States of America as there are in England and Wales; and, I will venture to say, that your Lordship has more criminals brought before you at the Old Bailey, at any one single session in the year, than are, during a whole year, brought before all the tribunals in that country! There is no contemplating a fact like this, without feeling one’s heart sink in one’s body. But, in pursuing our inquiries into the causes of this shocking state of things, we find, from official papers laid before Parliament, that crimes have regularly increased with the increase of paupers, and that the paupers have regularly increased with the increase of the amount of the taxes. Not quite conclusive, it may be said, that the weight of the taxes is the origin of this increasing mass of crimes; but let us look again across the Atlantic, and there, where there are so few crimes, we shall find, that the taxes, compared with ours, are really nothing; and thus, by an argument of experience, we arrive very nearly at proof.

But the reason of the case is of itself sufficient. Rich men never are caught picking pockets. The trade is not worth their attention. Vicious education, bad company, lead the originally innocent to become criminal; but, the vicious education and the bad company have their origin in poverty and misery nine hundred and ninety times out of every thousand. In America, where the common day labourer receives a dollar a day, and where the journeyman of most trades receives from a dollar and a half to three dollars, while provisions are lower in price, upon an average, than they are in England, there is no temptation to thieve, or to break open houses, or commit murders for the purpose of getting at the property of others. The wages are so high, because the taxes are so low; and it is the high wages, and the easy circumstances which they create, which are the real guardians of the public morals and of the public peace. There is no need of a standing army in a country, where the very lowest classes are so well off as to have no desire and no interest to disturb the public tranquility. This was formerly the situation of our now miserable country. “The English Constitution,” says Blackstone, “knows nothing of a standing soldier.” And, then, he goes on, in a triumphant strain, to say, that “No fortresses; no barracks; nothing to keep soldiers distinct from the people;” that nothing of this sort belongs to England. Alas! my Lord Mayor, what would this great commentator on our laws have said, if he could have lived to this day! Let his son-in-law, Dr. Rennell, the Dean of Winchester, come and speak for him, in a few weeks, when we shall have a County Meeting in that City, at the very gates of a Barrack, into which the Royal Palace of Edward the Third has been converted!

Talk of expending millions in monuments to commemorate the glory of these times! Talk of City feasts and City swords to regale and to decorate the foreign associates in acquiring this glory! Sackcloth and ashes, the penitents’ sheet and cowl, the hanging head and the weeping eye, better become our fallen situation.

Poverty, misery, these are the parents of crime; and, what adds to the pain of the reflection, is, that the crimes thus produced are more likely to be committed by the brave than by the cowardly part of the poor. When a man becomes a robber from want, it is because he cannot endure to be a beggar, or, because, he has resolution to set death at defiance Edition: current; Page: [44] rather than become a skeleton from starvation. The most dangerous state of society, if society it can be called, is that which exhibits numerous persons become desperate from want. I lately had occasion to observe, that when hope ceases to linger in the bosom, and despair takes its place, it is useless to talk about the vengeance of the law or the infliction of the sword; for, the miserable creature who is the object of the menace, knowing that starvation will end his days to a certainty, will rush on an almost certainty of death to relieve his hunger; and, when I turn my eye back to the poor, miserable, woe-smitten sailors, whom I saw last Sunday sitting in the recesses of Westminster-bridge, how can I be surprised at, though I deeply lament, the unlawful and desperate deeds of the Monday? Pale, their very lips were pale, long beards, ragged jackets, no shirts, bits of shoes, or their feet wholly naked. They asked nobody for alms; but sat crouched up with countenances that seemed to reproach death for being so tardy. The sight of them, coupled with the reflection of their past life, was enough to pierce the heart of a tiger. And are these, thought I. the gallant tars of Old England! Are these some of those men, to commemorate whose deeds we are about to expend millions on monuments!

You and I, my Lord Mayor, do not know what the word hunger means. That celebrated victim of despotic power, Baron Trenck, tells us, that, upon one occasion, he hastened out of a poor woman’s house, feeling that he was capable of murdering her for the sake of securing her food to relieve his raging burning hunger; and the heart which is unmoved by the tale can have nothing human about it. The Civil Law, Mr. Jacob tells us, did not deem persons guilty of felony or larceny, who took the property of others to preserve themselves from starving, it being held that, in such cases, they proceeded from necessity, and self-preservation being the first law of nature. He tells us, indeed, that this principle has long ceased to be considered as a principle to be acted on in the administration of our laws; and, therefore, I do not mention it as the ground of justification of any one in seizing the property of another, which is, in all cases, a crime in the eye of our law. But, I mention it in order to show, that, though we must condemn the conduct of such unhappy creatures, they are entitled to the exercise of our compassion in its fullest scope; and that, in speaking of the late acts of violence, common humanity ought to restrain us, if discretion did not, from loading the actors with all those opprobrious names, which have, upon this occasion, been resorted to by the corrupt part of the press, which really appears to me to be desirous to plunge the whole country into anarchy and bloodshed.

These corrupt writers call the rioters miscreants, robbers, assassins. They speak of them as a contemptible rabble at the same time. They boast of the number of troops ready to act against them. They jeer them, flout them, reproach them, despise them, and yet they curse them in the same breath. But, never does a word of pity for their sufferings find its way into their writings. Nay, as if to embody the great mass of the people on the side of the actors in scenes of violence, these writers have the atrocity to ascribe the violence to those, who are sedulously seeking to preserve the tranquility of the country by exciting hope in the popular breast, through the exercise of the undoubted right and sacred duty of petition.

Your Lordship well knows, that the riots in the City had no connection whatever with the Meeting of the People of the Metropolis in Spafields, Edition: current; Page: [45] where, while propositions the most constitutional and the best calculated to promote harmony and peace were under sober consideration, the firing of guns was heard from the City. It is notorious, that the persons who broke open the first gunsmith’s shop had been first collected, almost close to the spot, to witness the hanging of four men! This fact is notorious; but still these corrupt writers persist in ascribing the riots to a Meeting held and quietly dispersed at a distance of more than a mile!

Misrepresentations like these have the most fatal tendency for the peace of the country. The resolutions passed at Spafields; the letter of Mr. Hunt to Lord Sidmouth; his Lordship’s answer; the speech of Mr. Hunt upon this occasion, all are before the public; and, let that public say, whether any meeting that ever was held in England, was conducted with more propriety in all respects, and especially with a more anxious desire to preserve the public peace; which object was attained too, and that in a manner to excite the admiration of all well-disposed people. But, the truth is, that it is this manner of conducting popular discussions, which stings the authors and abettors of these corrupt publications to the soul. They wish to see the friends of Reform guilty of folly and violence. This would answer their purpose; and, the writer in the Courier expressly said, a few weeks ago, that it was this peaceable conduct which was the greatest cause of suspicion and alarm! Alarm! for what? Why, for corruption, for immorality, for wickedness of all sorts; but not for the tranquillity and happiness of the country.

The tendency of such wicked writings is to make the people despair, and from popular despair general confusion must arise. We are labouring most earnestly, and I hope, not in vain, to keep hope alive, to check impatience, to inspire fortitude. We hold out what we believe to be a real and general remedy. We recommend a strict submission to the laws; we use no means that are not legal; we have no disguise; we have no cabals, societies, or secret correspondence; we speak and publish our opinions; we deal in argument and not in abusive reproaches and names; we challenge our adversaries into the field of discussion; we contend for rights which we think we are entitled to; we think that we have justice and even policy on our side; and we are answered by every species of scurrility and of calumny. These have prevailed heretofore, but they will prevail no longer. The people are enlightened, and the power of calumny is at an end. We contend, that it is the taxes, the loans, the debt, and the paper-money, which are the real causes of our sufferings. We think, that a Reformed Parliament, annually chosen by ballot by the People at large, would be able to put all to rights, in a short time, and to prevent such evils in future. We give our reasons for this belief; and we are answered by foul names and atrociously false accusations. We recommend the people to petition for a constitutional reform in the representation, and the corrupt press recommends the Ministers to seize our persons and strip us of our property.

It is my sincere opinion, that the hope held out of a reform of the Parliament has done, and is doing, more for the tranquillity of the country than all the other means put together; and, as far as I myself am concerned, or have any power to do good or harm, I am perfectly convinced, that if I could possibly entertain the cruel and unnatural wish of seeing my country plunged into confusion and bloodshed, my course would be, not to write Registers, but never to write or utter another word upon public affairs; and, I am certain that, if the press and all popular discussion Edition: current; Page: [46] could at once be put an end to, it would not be one single month before pillage, devastation and carnage, would spread themselves over every part of the country. It is my belief, that the encouragement given to the people to hope for an approaching Reform is the best security for the public tranquillity as well as for a return of happiness; it is this belief which has induced me to take the liberty to address your Lordship, and to endeavour to prevail on you to give your powerful aid in the strengthening of a hope, the enfeebling of which I cannot help regarding as the sure forerunner of calamities, such as never were experienced by any nation in the world.

I am, with the greatest respect,
Your Lordship’s most obedient,
and most humble Servant,


William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
20th December, 1816

Innumerable are the instances in private life where men blindly and pertinaciously listen to those who are their worst enemies, who are undermining their characters and their fortunes, and who are fattening at their expense; while, towards those who are naturally, as well as by inclination, their friends, they wear an eye of constant suspicion, and entertain a feeling nearly approaching to that of enmity. That this failing, which is so common amongst individuals, is not without its influence on whole bodies of men, the conduct of the Country Gentlemen of these Islands, for many years past, most abundantly proves. And, as such conduct in private life seldom fails to produce ruin to the party, or his family; so, in your case, total ruin to yourselves, or, at least, to your descendants, appears to be a consequence altogether inevitable, unless you immediately rouse yourselves, shake off the infatuation, and act as becomes men who have children whom they do not wish to become beggarly dependents.

Amongst the other marks of this fatal infatuation, is, an obstinate refusal, not only to follow the advice of those who propose a Reform of Edition: current; Page: [47] the Parliament, or who disapprove of the measures of the Government; but, a refusal equally obstinate to hear what they have to say. A stubborn, a stupid, a contemptible obstinacy, to give way to which is justly punishable with ruin and disgrace. And, indeed, instead of patiently hearing what we have to say, no small part of you have repaid our endeavours with every species of persecution within your power. You have shown no sense of justice in these matters. You have not heard both sides, as common fairness pointed out; but have suffered yourselves to be led along by Corruption’s sons, as an ass is led by a gipsy; you have spitefully kicked at every man who has endeavoured to set you free; and even now, when your backs are breaking under your burdens, and your bones are sticking through your skins, you appear to feel a new fit of alarm at the proposition of that measure, which alone can, by any possibility, afford you relief and security.

Under such circumstances, it is almost impossible for us so far to master our resentment as to entertain a desire that you should now act the part that becomes you; but, to harbour such resentment would be to injure the great cause of the country, and it is, therefore, our duty to bury it, if possible, in everlasting oblivion. For my own part, bred up in the country, and taught in early life to look towards your order with great respect; remembering the times when your hospitality and benevolence had not been swept away by the tax-gatherer; having still in my recollection so many excellent men, to whose grandfathers, upon the same spots, my grandfathers had yielded cheerful obedience and reverence, it is not without sincere sorrow that I have beheld many of the sons of these men driven from their fathers’ mansions, or holding them as little better than tenants or stewards, while the swarms of Placemen, Pensioners, Contractors, and Nabobs, with all the keen habits of their former lives, have usurped a large part of the soil, and wholly changed the manners, and even the morals of the country. Upon this occasion, I wish to address you in the temper inspired by the recollection of early impressions, rather than in that which recent facts would naturally dictate. For more than ten years I have been endeavouring to convince you, that that which has now taken place would take place. I have hitherto, with regard to you, laboured in vain; and, one more effort, though it should prove equally useless, will form but a trifling addition to the disappointments already experienced.

My opinion is, that you have now no choice remaining, except that which lies between a Reform of Parliament and the loss of your estates through the means of taxation; and the soundness of this opinion I will, if you will give me a patient hearing, endeavour to prove in the clearest manner.

Let me first ask you a question or two applicable to this matter. Look, each of you, just around your own neighbourhoods. Take a circumference of thirty or forty miles. Put all the Gentlemens’ mansions within that compass down upon paper. Write against each who was the owner thirty years ago, and who is the owner now. And then tell me, what reason you have to hope, that your sons will possess your estates? If you have any love for your children, can you take this survey without experiencing the most poignant anguish? Then, look at the numerous little farm-houses tumbling down, or suffered to dwindle into wretched sheds for labourers. Look at the out-stretchings of the Metropolis, and see the increase of glittering chariots that rattle through its streets and Edition: current; Page: [48] squares; then turn to the places where numerous hamlets once stood, inhabited by happy people; and, then tell me, whether the accumulation of property into great masses, by the means of taxes and loans, has been for the glory or the disgrace of the country? Search the poor-books of fifty years back, and, when you find but one pauper for every hundred paupers that now are upon those books, tell me whether you can behold the horrid sight without shame for the present and apprehension for the future? The sons of Corruption would fain induce you to believe, that this dreadful change has been produced by a change in the morals and manners of the labouring people. This is not a very decent charge to make against them at the close of a war, during which those classes have shown so much valour, and have endured, with patience, so many and such great hardships. But the fact is, that there is less drunkenness than formerly; the labourers work harder than their forefathers worked; and, it surely will not be denied, that they are better educated, if by education we mean reading and writing. What, then, can have caused the poor-rates to rise, during the sway of the Pitts and the Roses, from two millions and a quarter to eight millions a year? What can have been the cause of this increase of human degradation? It is useless, besides being unjust, to rail against the poor. It is clear, that they ought to be fed, that they have both a legal and equitable right to be fed out of the produce of the soil; but it is also clear, that they must be so fed. They never can be made to die by thousands quietly under the hedges; and, if they could, the evil would be still greater; for then there would be nobody to labour, and the country would become again a wilderness.

It is impossible for you to dwell upon reflections of this kind for ten minutes without being convinced, that there is some great radical cause of all these evils. And, does it not become you, then, patiently to investigate that cause? If you, however unreasonably, have imbibed a dislike of the person who now addresses you; if you have been addicted, however unjustly, to rail against his motives; if you still think him actuated by mischievous designs, even that opinion ought not, unless you prefer self-destruction to self-preservation, to shut your ears against his reasonings, which can belong to no family or name, which must be either true or false, whether they come from him or any body else; thus to shut your ears would be to act as foolish a part as the refusing of a guinea because tendered to you by a man against whom you happened to have a grudge. If you had a bad opinion of the man who tendered the guinea, you would examine very carefully to ascertain whether it was gold; you would weigh it to see whether it was weight: but, if you found it of pure quality and of full quantity, you never would be so foolish as to refuse to put it into your pocket.

But, at the present day, there is another and most important reason for your lending a patient ear; for your examining and well weighing what is tendered to you, which reason is this: that your farmers, your tradespeople, your workmen of all sorts are very attentively reading upon these subjects. It is quite useless for you to endeavour to discourage and check the progress of political knowledge. That knowledge has gone forth like the rays of the sun bursting a black cloud asunder; and it is as impossible to destroy the effect of that knowledge as it would be to smother the rays of the sun. Even error, when strongly imprinted on the mind, has always been found extremely difficult to efface. What, then, is to efface truth, when imprinted on the mind in fair and distinct Edition: current; Page: [49] characters? “The lower classes,” as they are called by the sons of Corruption, appear, to some, to have become enlightened all of a sudden. They have, indeed, put forth their proofs of knowledge all of a sudden; but, the truth is, that they have long been acquiring that knowledge. They have been patiently and impartially listening; they have been reading attentively what you have been turning your eyes from; and now that the times call them forth, they astonish you with their political learning. You must, therefore, if it be only in your own defence, now resort to the same sources. It is useless for you, in conjunction with the Pittite parsons, to shut the light out of reading-rooms and great booksellers’ shops. It makes its way through the country in spite of your and their threats. It has been, by a singular process, shut out of mess-rooms and ward-rooms. But all these measures have only served to keep the higher or richer classes in political ignorance, while the middle and lower classes, as you call them, have been acquiring light, and improving in knowledge. The mass of information which has been discovered at the several public meetings seems quite surprising. The Mayors, Provosts, Boroughreeves, and others, who have refused to call public meetings, imagined, I dare say, that the people were nothing of themselves. They have found their mistake by this time, and they must have been ready to gnaw their very fingers off to see the accounts of those proceedings, which have been published, and in which a degree of talent and of wisdom has appeared, surpassing and very far surpassing, any thing that was ever before brought forth at public meetings in this or any other country. At Nottingham, the corporate body, like men of sense, have cordially acted with the people; but, at Manchester, Wigan, Boston, Lynn, Glasgow, Paisley, Renfrew, and divers other places, all persons in authority have either thrown obstacles in the way, or have at the very least, refused to participate. This, however, has not at all held the people in check. They know their rights, and they have come forward and exercised them with talent and spirit, and, at the same time, with the greatest possible prudence. Must not the natural consequence be, that the people will drop that respect for the rich which they have hitherto entertained?—And, is not this a most awful warning to the Country Gentlemen? Must they not see in these instances a proof, that, unless they place themselves at the head of the people, in the work of Reform, the people will find leaders amongst their own body? Must they not see even a greater danger; must they not see, that, if they still keep aloof, they will, at last, become objects, not altogether of contempt, but also of resentment? When the rich and the powerful of both the political factions united met in the open air at Maidstone, to propose an address to the Prince on the marriage of his daughter, they had no more idea of an opposition from the people than they had of an opening of the earth beneath them. What must have been their “surprise and regret,” when they found the people, not that shouting, huzzaing rabble that followed old Blucher about the streets, but a well-informed body who saw to the bottom of the subject, who knew how to trace their own sufferings down from the grants of public money, and who, having spirit equal to their understanding, hissed the rich and powerful addressers from the open air into a room in a tavern! Will not instances like these satisfy you, that the time is arrived for you to show yourselves? If they will not, you must be in more than Egyptian darkness.

But, and this brings me to the main point as concerns you, what do Edition: current; Page: [50] the people ask for? They do not ask for any one thing, in the obtaining of which you are not as deeply interested as they are. They do not ask for your property to be taken from you; they do not ask for your rents to be reduced. On the contrary, they ask for that which would prevent your total ruin and the annihilation of your very names. Your conduct is most surprising, and not to be accounted for upon any supposition short of that of the existence of an almost self-devotion to destruction. You have seen a law passed to make a tax on your land perpetual; then, upon the back of that, you have seen another passed, under the name of a redemption of that tax, to make you purchase the tax, or to enable the Government to sell it to any body else. And, thus, you have been compelled to purchase back part of your own estates, or to sell a part of them, in order to prevent the Government from selling to other individuals a rent-charge upon the whole. In some instances the right to receive the tax has been bought by individuals; in others, you have sold part of the estates entailed upon your sons, in order to buy the property in the remainder. And, in all this you appear to have very quietly acquiesced! You now hear your rents attacked; not by the people, but by some of the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture, which Board is a Government Board, and maintained at the public expense. Rents! These persons complain of your high rents; and they propose, that they should be reduced. They say, that high rents are the cause of the national misery, taking care to keep the debt and taxes and change of currency out of sight; and if they mean any thing practical, they must mean, that you ought to be compelled to lower your rents; or, in other words, to surrender another large part of your estates! And yet, you appear to feel no sort of alarm at proceedings and propositions like these! You, wise men that you are, are not to be awakened to a sense of danger by any thing but the expression of the people’s wish to have a voice in the choosing of those who are to make laws and impose taxes!

That, if no change take place, your estates will pass away from you is not now attempted to be denied by any one who has the ability to put pen to paper. And, yet you remain stagnant as the weeds of Lethe! The operation of the funding and army system upon your estates is just as visible as the operation of lading water out of one bucket and putting it into another; that is to say, it is thus visible to all eyes but yours; for, if it were visible to you, your conduct would denounce you as downright idiots. You see your incomes fall off; you see your tenants ruined; you see all the labourers become paupers; you are compelled to shut up your windows, to turn off your servants, to lay down your horses and carriages, to hang or drown your dogs, to cease all hospitality, and, finally, to abandon to the rain, the wind, and the bats, the mansions in which you were born, and which, only in your immediate fathers’ lifetimes, were scenes of plenty, hilarity, and happiness. You slide into some patched-up farm-house and vainly hope, by assuming the occupation, to share in the profits of the farmer; or you hide your diminished heads in some gaudy box, where art is at strife with nature, in the skirts of the metropolis, and where, instead of the voices of your hounds, you are cheered with the rumble of the convenient short coach which takes you to steal your politics while you are snapping up your dinner; or, unable to endure this degradation in the land of your forefathers, you decamp to some foreign shore, where, while you linger out, in a state of voluntary Edition: current; Page: [51] exile, a life of shabby gentility, your children imbibe the rudiments of that mongrel education which well prepares them to wander through the world, cursed with poverty and pride, loaded with contempt, and bereft of the benefits of compassion.

All this you know; all this you see before your eyes; all this many of you are now actually experiencing; and yet not a hand, not a tongue, have you moved in order to get rid of the cause of your ruin! If there be ten men composing a community; if each has a certain portion of property; if two out of the ten contrive, by any means, to appropriate to themselves a certain large part of the property of the other eight every year; is it not clear as day-light that, in a very few years, the two must have all the property, and, of course, the eight have no property at all? And yet you will not see that the tax-gatherers, who take a large part of your incomes and hand it over to the placemen, the pensioners, the grantees, the fundholders, and the army, are actually engaged in such a transfer! You will not see this; but you see dreadful dangers in a Reform of the Parliament, which would very nearly put an end to the transfer!

Well! but you do see it. You see it and feel it. You know that, in a short time, you must be ruined if no change take place. The delusive hope that it is a sudden transition from war to peace has been dispelled; you see that the cause is as permanent as the sixty millions of taxes and the eight or ten millions of poor-rates. You do, at last, confess that the loss of your estates, of which I warned you more than ten years ago, has taken place in part and is now upon the eve of consummation. You wish not to be wholly stript. You would, if you could, save the remnant of your property. Why, then, do you not join the people, who, with undivided voice, are praying for that change, which they look to as the only means of affording effectual present relief and future security, and which certainly is as necessary to you as to them?

The press of corruption call upon you to keep aloof upon these grounds. They say, that the standing army is necessary to preserve the peace of the country; that the present amount of civil list, sinecures, pensions, grants, and salaries is also necessary; and that to reduce the interest of the debt would be a breach of national faith and a robbery.

Now, the Reformers say, and I for one, that a Reform would cause the peace of the country never to be broken, or attempted to be broken, except in such a trifling degree as to be easily restored by peace-officers.

We say, that, as to sinecures, pensions, &c., a Reformed Parliament would reduce them to the standard of strict public services. We say, that, as to salaries and pay, they should be reduced in the proportion in which the wages of labourers and mechanics and manufacturers have been reduced. We say, that, if we were to stop here, the drain upon your estates would become much less than it is. But, I am not for stopping here. I am for making that reduction of the interest of the debt, which has been stigmatised as a breach of national faith, and, by others, as a robbery; and, I will endeavour to prove, that it is neither one nor the other.

At several of the public meetings it has been resolved, that the debt is not national; that those only owe the money, who have voted for those who borrowed the money; and that those who have filled the seats owe the debt. Without attempting to enter into this question at present, I shall proceed to say, that those who have lent their money to the Government Edition: current; Page: [52] were the best judges of the security they received for repayment. They very well knew, that they had no other security than that which the power of collecting a sufficiency of taxes gave them; and, the simple question is, whether, in order to collect a sufficiency of taxes, the nation is bound to hazard the very lives of a great part of the people. I say, that it is not; I say, that the safety and happiness of millions is to be preferred to the safety and happiness of thousands; and, I say, that this is a principle that is consonant with every notion of justice and humanity.

But, let us look a little into the facts of this case. There are some of the fundholders, who lent their money in a currency, one pound of which was equal in value to a pound of the present day; but, all those who lent the Government money after the stoppage of the Bank in 1797, lent no such a thing. They lent a paper-money of inferior value; and now, when the currency has been again raised in value, is the nation bound to pay the lenders as much of this paper as they lent of an inferior paper? If the lending had been in pieces of gold of one ounce weight each, would it be a robbery to make payment for ten pieces in five pieces of two ounces weight each? If the lending had been in bushels of wheat at 9s. a bushel, would it be a robbery to make payment for ten bushels in five bushels at 18s. each? And, though the price of wheat is now more than half what it used to be when the money was lent, this is merely owing to a short crop, and, if we take all the articles of produce, lean stock, meat, wool, flax, and corn, they do not sell for half the price they sold for when the main part of the money was borrowed. And yet they call it robbery, if we do not continue to pay two for one!

Nor had the nation any thing to do in changing the value of the currency. The Governor and Directors of the Bank Company were bound by law to pay the amount of their notes to the bearer upon demand, in gold and silver. They issued such large quantities of notes, that, in 1797, when the holders of the notes went for payment, the Governor and Directors went to Pitt, and told him their fears for the safety of their concern. Pitt procured an Order of Council, authorising them to refuse to pay their notes! This was all unlawful; but, the Parliament passed an Act to protect the Governor and Directors and Pitt and the Council against the consequences of this great and memorable breach of the laws. This Bank Company are amongst the very greatest of the fundholders, and they cry aloud about breach of faith, about robbery, because Mr. Preston and others have proposed to pay them no longer the value of two bushels of wheat for the value of one bushel of wheat!

The Bank paper, including the country paper, which depended upon that of the London Bank, has now been more than half drawn in. Whose fault was that? Not the nation’s. The nation had no hand in the stoppage of 1797, nor had it any hand in drawing in the paper. The whole has been done by those who manage the paper-money; and yet, the nation at large are to be called robbers, if they assert that they ought not to be wholly ruined by the operations of these managers!

Let us take the case of the common day-labourer. Infinite pains have been taken by the sons of corruption to persuade the labouring classes, that they do not pay any part of the Debt. Oh, no! great care is taken these corrupt men tell them, not to tax THEM. Great care is taken, to lay the weight upon the shoulders of those who are able to bear it. Great care is taken not to make the poor man contribute Edition: current; Page: [53] towards the support of the splendid sinecure placeman and pensioner; and these corrupt men say, that the war, having been carried on for the protection of property, men of property are, and ought to be, liable to pay the interest of the debt, which was contracted, that is to say, the money that was borrowed and expended upon the war. If this really were the case, and if the taxes paid by you and your yeomanry cavalry tenants, did not at all affect the labouring classes, it would be a matter of much less consequence than it is. But this is not the case. The press of corruption tell the labouring people a gross and wicked falsehood when it tells them that they are not taxed. They are taxed, and pretty handsomely too. The malt, beer, leather, salt, sugar, tea, tobacco, soap, candles, and spirits, of which the farmer’s man, the artizan, the mechanic, and the manufacturer and their families consume, and must consume, a very large part of all that is consumed in the country; these articles all pay a heavy tax, and, indeed, the taxes raised upon the malt, hops, and beer alone, amount to a greater sum, and a much greater sum, than the taxes on all the land, and all the houses, all the windows, all the carriages, all the horses, all the servants, all the dogs, and all the other taxes imposed on the rich and not on the poor. Let us, however, come to the proof; for this is a great matter. Let me go to the book; the book of all books, the book of taxes! Here I have it before me. It is an account of what the Government received from the people in England, Scotland, and Wales, during the last year of our lives. It received, for the above-mentioned things, as follows:

For Beer, Hops, and Malt £9,588,641 For Land, Houses, Windows, Carriages, Horses, Mules, Servants, Bailiffs, Waiters, Powder-Tax, Dogs, &c., &c. only 7,616,200

So that the beer, hops, and malt alone, which are chiefly used by those who are called the “lower classes,” pay nearly one-fourth part more every year than all the land, houses, windows, and the other things just named. And yet the corrupt press would fain make the labouring classes believe that they pay no taxes, and that great care has been taken not to lay any burdens upon those who are not well able to bear them! And, this is the reason, forsooth, why the poor ought not to have a vote at elections!

But, I am wandering from the point immediately before me, which was to show how the common day-labourer stands affected with regard to the Debt. The expenses of the Government may be divided into two heads:—First, the army, navy, civil list, pensions, &c.; and, Second, the debt. The taxes required to pay the army, navy, &c., amount to about twenty-two millions a year; and the taxes required to pay the interest of the debt to about forty-four millions a year; so that the charge for the debt is twice as great as the charge for every thing else. The commonest day-labourer pays in taxes, according to Mr. Preston’s computation, ten pounds a year, if he earn eighteen pounds a year, and, of course, his ten pounds are divided nearly as follows:

For Army, Civil List, &c. £3 6 8 For Debt 6 13 4 10 0 0
Edition: current; Page: [54]

Now, when the greater part of the debt-money was borrowed, the labouring man used to receive at Botley from 15s. to 18s. a week; and he now receives only from 9s. to 10s. a week. And, if we reckon the time that he now loses for want of work, which used never to be the case, his wages have, in fact, especially if we include the want of work for his wife and children, been reduced one-half. And is he still to pay the 6l. 13s. 4d. a year on account of the Debt? When the debt-money was borrowed, it took only about eight weeks’ wages in the year to pay his portion of the charge for the debt; but now it takes sixteen weeks’ wages in the year; and the fundholder can have these sixteen weeks’ wages for the same quantity of money that he could have had eight weeks’ wages when the debt-money was borrowed. And yet they call it a robbery to reduce the payment from sixteen weeks’ wages to eight weeks’ wages! Nay, they call it a robbery to reduce the fundholder one per cent., that is to say, they call it a robbery to give him more than the amount of twelve weeks’ wages for the eight weeks’ wages which he lent to the Government! This they stigmatise as a robbery; this they call a breach of national faith; against this they cry as loudly as parson Parks cried, the other day, against the “horrid and diabolical plot,” which he had discovered in a hackney-coach, and which consisted, I suppose, in the entwining of ribbons of colours red, white, and blue!

It is impossible to take this view of the matter and not to be convinced that things cannot go on in their present train for any length of time. The question, therefore, is not, whether all shall remain as it is, or a change take place; for a change of some sort must take place; and, the only question is, of what sort that change shall be.

I believe, that most men are convinced, that, if a Reform of the Parliament had taken place in 1792, we never should have seen a war against the people of France; that we should have suffered that people to settle their affairs in their own way; that we should not have expended million after million on the Bourbon fugitives and French aristocratic and ecclesiastical emigrants, while our own list of paupers was increasing at so dreadful a rate: and that we should never have heard of votes for monuments to commemorate the glory of having restored the Bourbons and the inquisition. I believe that most men, high as well as low, are now convinced of this. I believe also, that the same conviction prevails as to the impossibility of sufficiently reducing the expenses of the country, and, of course, the taxes, without a Reform. At any rate, the people, the great body of the people, are now most thoroughly convinced, that their miseries can never have an end, until this Reform shall take place. They now clearly see what are the real causes of their sufferings; they see that they arise from taxation and the management of the paper-money; they have too much sense to believe that soup-kettles can form a permanent establishment, and too much spirit to endure the thought of living all their lives upon alms; they laugh, and well they may, at the idea of saving banks, where they are to provide for sickness and old age by putting by a penny or two a week, while each labourer is paying about four shillings a week in taxes. In short, they now, in spite of all the endeavours to “irritate and mislead,” clearly see their way, and are coolly and firmly pressing forward with petitions for Reform.

And, why are you alarmed at this? Do you fear the consequences Edition: current; Page: [55] of putting an end to that mass of bribery and corruption and immorality of every sort, which now attend elections?—How can you be injured by annual Parliaments and universal suffrage? If the Members be really the choice of the people, what is it to you how often they are elected? Does universal suffrage frighten you? Why should it, if universal taxation does not? By the word universal, it is impossible that we should mean universal in its literal sense. We often say, that “all the world” knows such or such a thing. But, by these words, we do not mean, that all the people in all countries, savages and all, know it. The word universal is made use of to save the repetition of a great many words. We explain, that we mean, that every man, who is of age, and who is untainted with any infamous crime, should have a vote; and, when we have so clearly shown, that even the common day-labourer is so heavily taxed, we wait to hear the arguments to prove that he ought not to be permitted to have a vote in the choosing of those by whom he is so taxed, and such arguments we have not yet heard.

The practicability is all that can possibly remain in doubt, for the justice of the thing is clear. Some persons, very sincere and very able friends of Reform, are disposed to stop at householders; that is to say, all men who are masters of a house, or occupy a house, whether they pay any direct rates or taxes, or whether they do not. This would be doing a great deal; for, as it would include all cottagers and all married journeymen, it would, perhaps, satisfy the people. But, certainly, nothing one inch short of this ever will satisfy them; and, in this case, the ballot appears necessary to preserve the free exercise of this invaluable right; for, without the ballot, what is to protect the farmer and the householder against their landlord? In America, where so very small a part of the farmers are tenants, and where the labouring classes are so very independent, they have still adhered to the ballot, which, besides the protection it affords to tenants and other dependent persons has the excellent effect, in many cases, of preventing strife amongst neighbours and relations, The Abbe Mably, a French writer of great eminence, in his Letters to Mr. John Adams, on the American Constitutions, finds fault of the ballot, as being a provision against an evil that ought not to exist; and he predicts, that it will tend to degrade the people. He wrote in 1786; but, his prediction has not yet been fulfilled. However, I would break with nobody on the subject of the ballot, nor do I believe the petitioners in general would. I have confidence enough in the honesty and spirit of my countrymen to believe that without the ballot they would act as became freemen.

But, after all, let us have the subject fairly discussed; let a bill be brought in, and let us, when we see its provisions, examine whether they be good or bad. Let free discussion take place, and I will engage, that we arrive at the truth. And, what has any one, who means rightly, to fear from such a reform? It contemplates no hostility to any lawful prerogative or privilege; but, on the contrary, it fully contemplates the real enjoyment of both by those who are entitled to them. Are you afraid, that such a Reform would fill the Commons’ or People’s House with low and foolish men? If you are, upon what are your fears founded? Has a representative system, from top to toe, produced this effect in America? No: the four persons who have been Presidents, Messrs. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, were the four men most distinguished in their country for politics talent and wisdom, equal to Edition: current; Page: [56] any men upon earth as to private character, and all of them possessing estates, to which, unaugmented, they retired at the termination of their public duties. The two Houses of Congress, are filled, with very few exceptions, by men of some fortune as well as men of distinguished talent. Why, then, should you suppose, that the people of England, if free to choose, would fix their choice on men of no property and no talent!

But are you afraid, that the King would be compelled to put his authority into the hands of men having no noble blood in their veins, and that, thus, the ancient families of the kingdom would have the shame of submitting to the sway of upstarts? Before you express such a fear, you should ask yourselves, who and whence came those who have this sway in their hands now. The Lord Chancellor is the son of a Coal-Merchant; Lord Sidmouth the son of a Doctor of Physic; Lord Liverpool the son of a very clever man, who was once a writer in Reviews and other such publications; Mr. Vansittart was, not many years ago, a Sessions Lawyer in Berkshire; Mr. Canning’s origin I have no certain trace of; Mr. Huskisson is a farmer’s son, and has been an Apothecary or Banker’s clerk; and our worthy friend, old George Rose, at whose heels the Baronets and ’Squires of Hampshire follow like well-trained spaniels, was a Purser in the Navy. Come, come, then! Cheer up! Don’t be frightened! What is it that has raised these men, and many others who could be mentioned, to such a height of power? Why, their application to business; their industry; their store of knowledge calculated for the purposes of supporting the system; their superior talents of the sort that are required to carry on that which they are wanted to carry on. If, therefore, the notion of attaching importance to mere birth were to be admitted to be wise instead of being foolishness itself, what have you to fear on this score from the proposed Reform? Nay, I see no reason at all, why the present ministers, with an exception or two, should not remain as they are. A reformed Parliament would certainly leave the King perfectly unfettered in his choice; and, it is the evils of the present system that we want to get rid of, and not of the men who carry it on. For, as you must have observed, amongst all the numerous petitions for Reform, not one expresses a wish to produce a change of the ministers. The Whig press has been, indeed, labouring at this point; but, its efforts have been so contemptible in point of effect, that not a single petition contains any such thought. Pitt, in his better days, and before his connection with Dundas, said, that without a reform of the Parliament, no minister in England could be honest, by which he meant, I suppose, that no minister could act freely and effectually for the good of the country; and this appears to be the opinion of the people.

Now, then, if no other considerations had any weight with you, do you not perceive, that there is danger to yourselves in keeping aloof from so many thousands and hundreds of thousands of sturdy men as are now so eagerly seeking for the accomplishment of this great wish of their hearts? You cannot deny, if the question be put home to you, that you lament the events of the last twenty-five years. You cannot say, that you believe the present distress and misery to be temporary. You cannot point to any ground of hope of an alteration for the better, if the present system be persevered in. You can hardly endure the idea of seeing your estates wholly pass away from you. And, if you were, or are Edition: current; Page: [57] insensible to every other feeling, do you not dread the thought of being held in contempt or abhorrence by the labouring classes? And yet, must not this be the case, if you still resolve to keep aloof? They have, everywhere, with their accustomed deference to their superiors in rank and property, been anxiously looking towards those superiors. They have respectfully urged them to take the lead; and, they have, everywhere except at Nottingham, and Norwich, and in the County of Cornwall, met with refusal, and, in some cases, with insult and abuse. This, however, has not prevented them from exercising their right of petition, and, in their cool, decorous, and able manner of doing it, they have given those superiors a lesson which ought to be a warning to them in future. That men should, by false pride, be rendered so stupid as to cast away proffered influence and power would appear incredible were not the fact attested by undeniable evidence. At Carlisle the labouring classes have made a formal and written application to their employers to place themselves at their head in the work of petitioning. The document is curious and interesting, and is as follows. The application appears to have been a Circular.

Sir,—We the Operative——in your employ, considering the necessity of a Reform in Parliament to be the only means of relieving the present existing distress of the country, call upon you to come forward along with your brother manufacturers of other trades, in calling a general public meeting to express the grievances which the people lie under and the necessity of redress.—Sir,—It is the full intention of the people to petition the King, likewise the Legislature—and if you absolutely refuse to act in a public capacity in the business, we shall be under the disagreeable necessity of taking the cause in hand ourselves.—But we fondly hope you will accede to our reasonable request, and come forward to use every lawful means in your power to redress your own grievances and the grievances of your servants.

And your Petitioners will ever pray.

Now, I should be glad to know, what proceeding could be more proper, more sensible than this? What more reasonable, what more fair and honest? And yet, it appears, that the employers, though not with insult and abuse, declined the invitation, upon the vague assertion, that “no benefit could be expected to result” from such a public meeting. The insult and abuse were left to be supplied by the proprietor of the Courier, who was once himself a journeyman tailor, and who now, affecting airs of high-blood, treats these sensible, modest, and suffering people as if they were so many curs, fit to be fed only on carrion. Do you think, that THIS is the way to conciliate the people, to cheer them with hope, to induce them to exercise fortitude and patience, and to strengthen the natural ties which bind them to their superiors in rank and wealth? No: but it is the way to burst those ties asunder and to destroy them for ever. A Reform will take place or it will not. If it do not, if it be finally refused, and that, too, as those vile writers would recommend, without a fair and full and candid hearing, what disappointments, what heart-burnings, what hatreds, what resentments, what combustibles are here gathering together! And, if it do take place, in what contempt will the mass of the people hold those whom they, with that modesty which is inseparable from true courage, now look up to as their superiors! And, therefore, in keeping aloof from the people in this the hour of their distress and anxiety, are you acting the part of men who form a just estimate of the means of preserving even your own property and character, to say nothing of the peace, happiness and power of our Edition: current; Page: [58] country, which might as far surpass all others in prosperity as it does in enterprise, talent, and renown?

The country, instead of being disturbed, as the truly seditious writers on the side of corruption would fain make us believe; instead of being “irritated” by the agitation of the question of Reform, is kept, by the hope, which Reform holds out to it, in a state of tranquillity, wholly unparalleled in the history of the world, under a similar pressure of suffering. Of this fact, the sad scenes at Dundee are a strong and remarkable instance. At the great and populous towns of Norwich, Manchester, Paisley, Glasgow, Wigan, Bolton, Liverpool, and many others, where the people are suffering in a degree that makes the heart sink within one to think of, they have had their meetings to petition for Reform; they have agreed on petitions; hope has been left in their bosoms; they have been inspired with patience and fortitude; and all is tranquil. But, at Dundee, where a partial meeting had been held early in November, and where a gentleman who moved for Reform had been borne down, there violence has broken forth, houses have been plundered, and property and life exposed to all sorts of perils, and this, too, amongst the sober, the sedate, the reflecting, the prudent, the moral people of Scotland.

One would think, that this instance alone would rouse you from your unaccountable state of torpidity. The pensioned Burke insolently said, that the King held his crown in contempt of the Reformers of 1789. You cannot hold your property in contempt of the people; and if you could do it, what would your property be worth? Yet, every day that passes over your heads, is, by your keeping aloof, separating you more and more widely from the people, the great mass of whom are well convinced, that you have only to place yourselves at their head to obtain for them the full accomplishment of their wishes; and, what is more, they would be satisfied with less if speedily obtained by your assistance.

Thus, it appears to me, that every consideration, whether as to self or to country, calls on you to come forth and cordially join in the work of obtaining a Reform. The approaching session of Parliament will, if I am not much deceived, be the most important that this country ever saw. Its measures will finally pronounce on your fate; and, what sort of fate that will be will wholly depend on yourselves.

Edition: current; Page: [59]


To come forward and assist in the putting an end to Bribery, Corruption, Perjury, and all sorts of infamies; and to deny, if they can, the persecutions and the cruelties of the House of Bourbon and the horrors of the Inquisition, both of which have now been restored.

“The congregation of hypocrites shall be desolate, and fire shall consume the tabernacles of Bribery.

Job, chap. xv. 34.
William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
Dec. 25, 1816.

The text, which I have here taken is the very text, which, nearly eleven years ago, I posted up in the borough of Honiton in Devonshire, with the hope of inducing some part, at least, of its inhabitants to give their votes without receiving payment for them, which is, as you well know, not only bribery, but bribery of that sort, the being concerned in which is made, in Scripture, the ground of exposing the guilty parties to have their habitations consumed by fire. There is no doubt, that this denunciation is to be understood figuratively; that it was not meant that the bribers or the bribed would have their habitations actually burnt; but there can be as little doubt, that it was meant to declare in the strongest terms, that bribery was to be looked upon as a most heinous offence, and that it would inevitably be followed by the severest of all punishments. “Your habitations shall be consumed; you and your very dwellings shall be swept from the face of the earth, on account of this horrid crime.” This appears to have been the clear meaning of the text, and a denunciation more awful is not, as far as I recollect, contained in the whole of the Scriptures.

Now, seeing that I have, in this same work of mine, and under this same title, laboured incessantly for the last eleven years of my life, with a view to root out the cause of Bribery, Corruption and Perjury, it is not without feelings strongly tinctured with indignation that I have learnt, that the most busy and most loud of the calumniators of me and my work, have been found and are still to be found in your order. I will not, however, be so unjust as these men, who make a point of confounding me with known traitors and murderers; I will not level against your whole body that censure, which, as I would fain hope, is merited but by comparatively a few of the clergy of the Church of England, who, as an order of men, can, I trust, never be so detestably base as to co-operate with the hirelings of corruption’s press in the work of impeding the progress of undeniable truths, and in that of propagating notorious falsehoods.

But, speaking with this large and liberal exception, have I not reason to complain of the enmity which you discover towards the cause of Edition: current; Page: [60] Parliamentary Reform generally, and particularly towards the exertions which I and many other individuals are now making in that cause? And further, have I not reason to complain, that now, when you must see the absolute necessity of Reform in order to secure the chance of a restoration of national happiness, you do not, from any of your more than thousand pulpits, utter a single word in favour of that measure, the justice of which no man, whose character is not already as black as soot, will attempt to deny!

If, indeed, the Reformers in general, and I in particular, had made the undermining of religion, or the taking away of the temporal property of the Church, a part of the change we contemplate and recommend, there might have been some ground for your hostility towards us and our plans. But, while the Reformers in general have been wholly silent upon these matters, I have most strenuously recommended the abstaining from all attempts to mix up questions of religion with the question of Reform. I am for coming to no previous determination as to the temporalities of the Church; but, to leave that matter to be settled (if it be necessary to meddle with it at all) by a Parliament, chosen fairly by the people at large. There are persons who have ascribed a large part of the present sufferings of the nation to the existence of tithes; and who, of course, have directed, as far as they have been able, the hatred of the people against you. They have, in fact, told the people, that your tithes are a tax; that they are a heavy burden upon the farmer and the poor; that they are oppressive; and, in short, that they are one of the great causes of the present miseries of the people. But, who are these persons? Not the Reformers; no, but those very men whom you are labouring to uphold against the Reformers! And, what is more, you must see, that these men have now in contemplation a measure which, if adopted, will inevitably, in a few years, produce the total annihilation of the whole of your temporal means! On the other hand, so far from joining in this deceptious outcry against you; so far from putting tithes upon a level of the taxes, I have taken no inconsiderable pains to show the fallacy of such a notion. I have reminded my readers, that it would be difficult to show, how the mass of the people can suffer because the rent of the landlord is divided with the parson; I have reminded them, that if tithes were abolished to-morrow, they would only be added to the farmer’s rent, and go to add to the already immense estates of the landlord, without doing any good to the people at large; I have reminded them, that tithes have existed for seven hundred years, and that England has been very happy during that time, but that Paper-Money, National Debts, Standing Armies, Enormous Sinecures, Pensions, and Grants, to East-India Companies, French Emigrants, &c. are quite NEW THINGS, and, that to these, and not to our ancient establishments, are our miseries to be ascribed. Who but me amongst all the laymen in England, has ever treated your order with this fairness and liberality? Who, with any degree of talent at his command, has ever put your case upon its true ground? And yet, whom have you ever pursued with so much foulness and illiberality?

However, with regard to your temporalities you must now be left to take your chance. If prejudices, though they may be unfounded, exist against your possessions, I look upon myself as absolved from the duty of interference, seeing that those possessions are made use of by you to impede the progress of political knowledge, and that your pulpits resound Edition: current; Page: [61] with the cry of “sedition,” against truths which cannot be denied and arguments which cannot be answered. You have, for years past, been cheering on the Gentry and Yeomanry in the pursuit and for the destruction of the Reformers; and, it will, therefore, not be a subject of very deep regret, if, at last, you should, like Actæon, be devoured by your own hounds.

It is possible, that some of you may doubt whether a Parliamentary Reform would produce all the good which we contemplate; but, it is quite impossible that you should not be convinced, that it would put an end to the greatest mass of wickedness that ever existed in any nation upon earth. You know as well as I do, that the land is filled with crimes in consequence of the present mode of election. You know that drunkenness, fraud, calumny, bribery, corruption, false-swearing, and, in short, every species of infamy, are produced by this cause, and that, too, in degree and quantity wholly unparalleled in the history of the world. When I was at Honiton, in 1806, many of the wretched voters told me, in the hearing of witnesses now alive, that they knew how wicked it was to do what they did; but, that they wanted the money to pay their rents, and that they should be starved if they did otherwise. Some abused me very foully, and said, that, in advising them to vote uninfluenced by money, I was endeavouring to rob them of their blessing! For this was the term they gave to the money which they were to receive. But, indeed, the bribery and corruption, the frauds and false swearings are too notorious to need particular instances to establish their existence. The Records of Parliament, the proceedings of Election Committees, contain a greater mass of proofs of fraudulent villanies, than, as I verily believe, is to be found in the Records of all the Criminal Courts of all the other nations in the world. And, if to this be added the frauds and the perjuries, growing out of the Custom and Excise Laws, which, for the far greater part, have grown out of Paper-money, National Debts, and Standing Armies, the picture is too huge and too horrid to be endured by any one not lost to every sense of morality and honour.

Now, if this be not a true and fair statement of the case, why have none of you ventured to contradict and disprove it? There are more than fifteen thousand of you, who have livings or benefices of one sort or another, and, there are more than twenty thousand of you in orders. Out of this number can no man be found, with all your College acquirements, to put a cool and fair answer upon paper? For forty years has that venerable and most able and virtuous Reformer, Major Cartwright, challenged you to the discussion; and never has he been answered but by revilings. Not that you dislike to meddle with politics; for of what else have your printed sermons consisted for the last twenty-five years? Amongst the pamphlet-writers in favour of the wars against the French nation, who figured next after the pensioned Burke? Who but the Ministers of the Church of England? Mr. Herbert Marsh, who is now become a Bishop, wrote a pamphlet to prove the justice and necessity of the war; and, this gentleman had a pension, too, of more than five hundred pounds a year. Whether he has it now is more than I can say; but, he had it in 1808. He published his pamphlet in 1799, or in 1800; and the pension was given him in the month of May, 1804. I mention this, not only as a well-recorded instance of clergymen meddling with politics; but also, as a proof, that Edition: current; Page: [62] such meddling has not been displeasing to the Government. The late Rev. John Brand wrote a political pamphlet in favour of Pitt and the war, and he had the great living of St. George, in the borough of Southwark, given to him very soon afterwards, by the then Lord Chancellor Loughborough. Messrs. Nares and Beloe were long, and, perhaps, still are, the chief conductors of that political engine, called the British Critic. They have both good rich livings, if not two each. Besides, Mr. Nares, who has the living of Reading, is an Archdeacon, and Mr. Beloe was Librarian of the British Museum; the manner of his ceasing to be which, may, when I have more time, be fully recorded.

The object, in giving these instances, is, not to throw blame on these gentlemen for writing on politics. I could say, that some of them have written very baldly, and, I am convinced, that, whatever may have been their intentions, they have, in the same degree as they have produced effect, done mischief. But, this is not the point at which I am aiming. The object is to show, that you have not been backward to meddle with politics; and indeed, it is notorious, that, at public meetings, held for the purpose of promoting the continuation of the late wars, you have seldom failed to take a prominent part, and that, upon one particular occasion, the Clergy of the Diocese of Salisbury, just after the death of Perceval, stood alone in urging the Prince Regent to push on the war with vigour.

Your not answering us, therefore, cannot be ascribed to your dislike to enter into political discussions. No; it arises from your consciousness of the goodness of our cause, and the consequent badness of that of our opponents. You do not answer, because you cannot answer. You cannot openly say, that it would be an evil to get rid of bribery, corruption, perjury and subornation of perjury; and yet this you must say, or no answer can you give. There are no shifts and shuffles to be made avail with you. Others may say, that a Reform of the Parliament would not do good in certain other ways. But you, being clergymen, must say, at once, that you approve of bribery, corruption, and perjury, or that a Reform would be a good thing. This is the reason why you do not answer our writings, and why you endeavour to misrepresent our characters and our motives.

But, what is most surprising to me, is, that you, above all men in the world, should be able to endure the thought of the existence of such disgraceful crimes, such an audacious violation of decency and moral rectitude, such an open defiance of the religion you profess. When I have beheld the scenes of drunkenness, fraud, perjury, bribery, and of beastliness at the contested rotten borough elections, and, indeed, at all elections, where money is expended as the means of obtaining a majority on the poll, I have felt shame at the reflection that those whom I beheld were my countrymen. What, then, ought to have been my reflections, if I had been, as you are, charged with the care not only of the morals, but of the souls, of the people? At your ordination you vow before God, that you firmly believe yourselves to be called by the Holy Ghost to take upon you the teaching of the people; and, previous to your induction into any living or curacy, you most solemnly declare that you will do all in your power to lead your flocks in the paths of religion and virtue and holy living, and of your sincerity you call upon the Almighty to be your witness. It is not my wish to accuse you of being wholly unmindful of vows made with such awful solemnity; but, may I not, Edition: current; Page: [63] then, express my surprise, that I have never heard of any one instance, in which you have appeared at any election to put a stop to or to check the abominations exhibited at such scenes? But, suppose this remissness to be excusable, which, I think, no one can suppose, ought you not to appear foremost in the ranks of those, who would apply a remedy to this monstrous evil, this unparalled wickedness? Of minor offences you are ready enough to take notice. The breach of the observance of the Lord’s Day, which observance is, as you know, enjoined merely by human laws, you are apt enough to notice. You talk stoutly enough against drunkenness, profane swearing, and rioting, all which, though deserving of serious censure, are mere trifles, or, rather, they are nothing at all, when compared to those deliberate acts of bribery, corruption, and perjury, which are not only base and detestable in themselves, but which strike, with traitorous hand, at the vitals of our country’s freedom and happiness. It is curious to observe, with what alacrity you push forward to join in condemning every thing that is aimed against the conduct of persons in power; how ready you are to make the charge of sedition against every man who writes or speaks in defence of the people’s rights; but, not a word do you say against the violation of those rights or against any acts, however scandalous, of which persons in power have been guilty, as witness your ever-memorable conduct relative to the affair of the Duke of York and Mrs. Clarke. Instead of making your pulpits ring with condemnation of the acts which had been brought to light, though you were condemning such acts in the people every day, you stigmatized as seditious men, those who had endeavoured to put an end to such acts by the exposing them to the reprobation of the world. As if it was sedition to complain of the vile traffic which was then brought to light! Nay, it is notorious, that more than one of the clergy of the Church of England were, more or less, involved in the transactions; and, let it never be forgotten, that one Doctor of the Church obtained the honour of preaching before the king and queen through the interest and at the express recommendation of Mrs. Clarke! Now, though I do not pretend to believe, that you, as a body, approved of these things, yet never did I hear of your disapprobation of them; and, I well recollect, that when, at a public meeting at Winchester, resolutions were moved strongly condemning these scandalous transactions, a clergyman of the Church of England was the only man who had the shamelessness to oppose them. He, too, called the resolutions seditious, which is a very convenient word, as it seems to mean any thing that those who use it please; but, the sense which we ought to put on it when used against fact and argument, is, that it means “true and unanswerable but dangerous to the corrupt.

Amongst all the Ministers of my time Perceval was the favourite of the Church. All men in great power are favourites; but there seemed to be a sort of intrinsic merit in Perceval, which entitled him to your peculiar regard and affection. This man, when Attorney-General, prosecuted a tinman of Plymouth, for having offered Mr. Addington, then Minister, a sum of money for a place under the Government. This appears to have been a very ignorant man, and he had seen so much of bribery, that he, I dare say, thought there was no danger in what he was doing. Perceval, however, made a grand display of the enormity of the offence, and took occasion to assert, that in no age, in no country, were men in power so free from this species of traffic. He, thereupon, Edition: current; Page: [64] called for punishment on the tinman, who was fined and imprisoned, whose family was utterly ruined, and who soon after died with grief and misery. Well! “But was it not right,” you will say, “to punish this attempt to bribe?” Yes: but now let us look at the conduct of this same Perceval, when he became a Minister, six years afterwards. The exposures of 1809 included every species of bribery; selling of offices; swapping of offices for seats; all sorts of trafficking in this way. But, at last, out came a distinct charge of Mr. Maddocks against this same Perceval himself, whom Mr. Maddocks accused of having, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was also a Privy Councillor, CONNIVED at the sale of a seat in Parliament, and at the causing the holder of the seat to quit it afterwards, because the holder would not vote for the acquittal of the Duke of York! This was the distinct charge which Mr. Maddocks made against Perceval, and he pledged himself to prove it by witnesses, at the bar of the House of Commons, if the House would hear those witnesses.

Now, then, what did your favourite Perceval, the unrelenting prosecutor of the poor tinman do? Why, he did not deny the charge, but, he begged of the House to get rid of Mr. Maddocks’ motion, and not to hear his witnesses; and, why? Because, as he said, those who brought forward such charges were enemies to the Constitution, and were actuated by seditious motives. And, generations to come will hear with indignation, that the House determined by a large majority, that, they would not hear the witnesses! And Perceval continued to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, he continued to be a Privy Councillor, he was afterwards exalted to be Prime Minister, and when he was killed by Mr. Bellingham, you, particularly in the diocese of Salisbury, sent up an Address to the Regent, in which you eulogized his character!

Do you think, that these things can be forgotten? Do you think, that the calling the exposure of such things seditious will silence the voices or assuage the indignation of the virtuous part of mankind? Do you wish the people of England to be a moral and religious people, and yet do you wish that they should not hold these things in abhorrence? Do you wish them to be honest and true, and yet do you wish that they should approve of the foulest of frauds and the basest of perjuries? Do you wish them to believe in the Scriptures, and yet do you wish to regard those men as seditious, who reprobate bribery and corruption and false-swearing, agreeably to the principles of those very Scriptures?

Samuel, when about to yield up his Rulership over the Israelites, appeals, thus, to their justice as to his conduct in his great office:—“Behold, here I am: witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine enemies therewith? and I will restore it you.”—I Samuel, chap. xii. verse 3. But his sons, whom he had appointed to rule after him, appear to have been of a different character. “And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.”—I Samuel, chap. viii. verse 3.

What was the consequence? Nothing short of a revolution; for the people, abhorring so much this act of taking bribes, called upon Samuel to leave them under the sway of a King; and, though Samuel told them, that a King would scourge them and plunder them; though, in short, Edition: current; Page: [65] they were assured, that they should be subjected to the most horrid despotism, yet, with their eyes open, and with the choice fairly before them, they preferred an open despotism, however severe, to a base and cowardly, undermining and hypocritical system of bribery, by which they would have been as cruelly oppressed as by an undisguised despotism, and would, at the same time, have been deprived of the sympathy, which is always felt for those who suffer under the hand of an open and acknowledged despot. This is a remarkable instance of the horror in which the crime of bribery was held in those times; and, indeed, it is a crime which, in every part of the Scripture, where it is mentioned or alluded to, is, as far as I recollect, numbered amongst the most atrocious of offences. “Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men, in whose hands is mischief, and whose right hand is full of bribes.”—Psalms xxvi. v. 9 and 10. And, really, there can be little doubt, that he who will deliberately tender or take a bribe, being well aware of all the consequences, is capable of any crime. How many crimes has bribery actually created! Isaiah charges the Israelites with being corrupters, and tells them that their burnt-offerings and sacrifices are a base and insolent mockery of God, while they are guilty of such things. “Learn to do well,” says he (chap. 1), and do not rely upon the formalities of your religion. Jeremiah compares “corrupters” to brass and iron: and, indeed, as we well know, they are the most impudent, the most profligate of all mankind. He calls them “grievous revolters” also (chap. vi., v. 28); but if he had lived in our day, he would have been called a revolter, that is to say, a revolutionist himself! For this is the name given to us, who are labouring to put down corrupters and bribers by destroying the sources of corruption and bribery. Is it thus that we ought to be treated? From any of your Order ought we to expect such treatment? And, will any of you still persist in opposing the circulation of this work, the plain and obvious tendency of which is to drive from the land the abominations against which both Scripture and Reason cry aloud? Despitefully as some of you have treated me; great and unjust as is the hatred which some of you have shown towards me; yet I will not apply even to these my most bitter enemies the description given by Amos (chap. v., 10, 11, and 12 v.); but, if they persevere in their foul hostility, I shall leave the people to make the application. “They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly. Forasmuch, therefore, as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them. For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.” If this serve to show, that there were bribery and corruption in times of old, it also serves to show, that there were men to reprobate such crimes, and to utter denunciations against those who committed them. The civil and political institutions of the Israelites were different from ours; but, the principles of morality and of justice have always been, and must always be, the same; and, without speaking profanely, what was Amos more or less than a Reformer, and a political Reformer too, of his day? He found the people in a state of oppression, he saw the poor trodden down, he saw them heavily burdened with taxes, he saw a large part of the produce of their labours taken from them, he saw those who took the Edition: current; Page: [66] taxes building splendid mansions and living in luxury, he saw the work of partiality and bribery going on, he saw the lower orders in society turned out of their rights, and he complained, that whoever rebuked any of the persons guilty of these things, whoever spoke uprightly, was hated and abhorred by those who had an interest in the continuance of the oppressions.

As to the crime of false-swearing, it is notoriously one of the heaviest of those sins against which the wrath of God has been denounced; but, it becomes of much more than ordinary importance, and much more than ordinary enormity, when it affects the well-being of a whole community. You know as well as I, that if any man gives a vote, either in the Parliament or at an election, from any motive of self-interest, he is guilty of false-swearing. You know, that the Peers are strictly forbidden by law, and it is a breach of their honour and their oaths as Peers, to exert any sort of influence in the returning of Members to the People’s House, or Commons’ House of Parliament. And well knowing these things, how can you, as clergymen bound by solemn vows to God to watch vigilantly over the morals, and earnestly to labour for the safety of the souls of the people; how can you, possessing this knowledge, and bound by these obligations, hold your tongues as to these scenes, which relative to these matters, are almost constantly before your eyes? And, do you think, that your silence will be justified by the plea, that the Reformers are seditious men? Do you think, that, if asked why you have not endeavoured to put an end to the scenes exhibited at elections, it will be sufficient for you to say, that you feared worse might come? Do you suppose, that the bare plea of the apprehension of a possible evil will be a sufficient justification for a neglect to endeavour to put an end to a notoriously existing evil? If so, you must believe, that to suffer a poor creature to starve by the road side will be justified, upon the plea of its being possible, that, if relieved, he might do harm in the world. This, however, you cannot believe. We are not to do evil that good may come of it; but we are not to refrain from doing good from the fear that evil may possibly be the ultimate consequence. The old Norman proverb: Fait ce qu’il faut, arrive ce qu’il pourra: Do what you ought to do, let the consequence be what it may: This is a rule of conduct worthy of men of honour and of true religion, and this is the maxim of our able and virtuous leader, Major Cartwright, whose answer to all the forebodings of the timid and the insincere, has always been: “Let us, keeping the laws and constitution for our guides, do all that we are able to do, and leave the rest to God” And, indeed, this is the language of common sense and is conformable to the common practice of mankind in all the concerns of life, public as well as private. Not to act upon this principle would be effectually to prevent every species of enterprise; nothing could ever be undertaken even for the preservation of the independence of a country. No improvement could ever be adopted; no difficulty could ever be overcome; nothing good could ever be undertaken, and, of course, could ever be accomplished.

“Where much is given, much is required;” and though this applies to all men, in their several degrees, it applies more especially to you, whose very profession calls upon you to exert yourselves against such detestable wickedness, and who receive such very large sums for your services. The annual income of the Church, arising from tithes and other sources, which are destined by the law for the purpose of insuring teachers of the people, is not less, I believe, than five millions of pounds Edition: current; Page: [67] a year, exclusive of the immense Church Property in Ireland. It is impossible to reconcile to reason, that this property ought to be suffered to be enjoyed by you but as a reward for public duties. It was originally so intended, as the endowments and the early laws clearly show. That it is not private property in you is certain, for you can neither give it away in your life-times nor bequeath it at your deaths. If, then, it is to be looked upon as the compensation for services, how great ought those services to be! And, it will not be denied, I believe, that the poor as well as the rich, have a claim to a share in those services. Have not the people, then, the great mass of the nation, a right to call on you to come forth to their assistance upon this occasion? If you post yourselves up as the clergy only of the rich and powerful, on what do you ground your claim to any attention on the part of the people? Besides you ought to bear in mind, that the tithes were not granted to clergymen and their families; that they were granted to a clergy who never had wives; that the income of each living was to be divided into four equal parts, one part for the poor, one for the repairing of the church and church-yard and for the furnishing of the sacramental elements, &c., one part for keeping hospitality for travellers and pilgrims, and the remaining part for the support of the priest. The poor are now maintained by the parish, the churches, &c. are provided for by parish-rates, you keep no hospitality for travellers, and you and your families consume the whole of the income! I know that modern laws allow of this; but, pray, then, do not object to the people’s obtaining a modern law to insure to them their political rights.

Even if public duty were out of the question, and if you could divest yourselves of all considerations of a religious nature, your interest, it seems to me, would naturally push you forward in the people’s cause, which, if rightly viewed, is your own cause too. You can hardly believe, that things can proceed long without a great change of some sort, and nothing short of downright infatuation can induce you to hope that you can do any thing to prevent such change. And, I would ask you seriously, whether, under such circumstances, it is prudent, leaving justice out of the question, for you to keep aloof from the people? However, this will now be your own affair; and, if you resolve, after this remonstrance, to convince the people, that you will be the very last to afford them support, the people will with the less reluctance leave you to your friends the agricultural gentry and the yeomanry cavalry, who will probably dispose of your affair even before the question of Parliamentary Reform shall have been finally settled.

I now come to the second part of my subject, and I call upon you to deny, if you can, the cruelties of the House of Bourbon and the horrors of the Inquisition. And, why do I thus call upon you? Because it is notorious, that, in every stage, you were for war against the French people; and because, at the peace, there was a Thanksgiving in the Church of England, which last took place after the restoration of the Pope and the Bourbons.

As to the cruelties of the House of Bourbon, previous to the Revolution in France, the bare enumeration of them would fill volumes. I shall, therefore, only assert here, that it is notorious, that they were the most cruel tyrants that Europe ever saw, and that this I am able to prove when any one of you shall dare deny the fact. But, as to the INQUISITION, I have something more particular to say, and, though I Edition: current; Page: [68] have said the same things upon a former occasion, this is a proper time to say them again. We are now feeling the weight of a war that cost more than a thousand millions; the miserable people of this country are now sinking under the consequences of that war. That war put down Napoleon; that war sent the brave and generous Napoleon into captivity; that war restored the Bourbons in France, Spain and Naples; it restored the Pope and the Inquisition, all which Bonaparte had put down. This is the price of our taxes, debts, and misery; and, let us see, then, how it agrees with the religious opinions you have taught, to rejoice at this restoration.

If there was one trait, above all others, by which your sermons and prayers, until of late years, were characterised, it was by your zealous, your violent, not to say foul-mouthed, attacks on the Romish Pontiff, faith, and worship. You had no scruple to represent the Pope as Antichrist, and as the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, covered with abominations. How clearly did you prove that he was the Beast of the Revelations; that he had made the world drunk with his fornications; that his seven heads were the seven hills on which Rome is situated; his ten horns the ten principal Catholic Sovereigns of Europe; and that his colour was scarlet, because it was dyed in the blood of the Saints? Was there scarcely a sermon, was there a prayer, that issued from your lips, in which you did not call on the Lord for vengeance on this “Man of Sin,” and in which you did not describe the Catholic religion as idolatrous, blasphemous, diabolical, and as evidently tending to the eternal damnation of millions and millions of precious souls?

Every one, who shall read what I am now writing, must acknowledge, that this description of your conduct, in regard to the Romish Church, is far short of the mark. What, then, have you now to say in justification of your recent conduct? Where is your justification for your violent attacks on Napoleon and his family, to say nothing, at present, of your thanksgivings for the restoration of the ancient order of things, or, in your own language, “the ancient and venerable institutions?” Where is your justification for your attacks on the Bonapartes? Others, indeed, might consistently attack them. Such as thought that the Church of Rome and her power were good things; or, such as regarded one religion as good as another, might consistently attack Bonaparte. But, you! you, who professed the opinions above described; how can you apologize to the world, and to your flocks, for the part which you have taken against him?

The case, with regard to you, stands thus: There was, before Bonaparte’s power commenced, existing in Europe a system of religion, or, as you called it, irreligion, having at the head of it a Sovereign Pontiff, with innumerable Cardinals, Bishops, Vicars General, Abbots, Priors, Monks, Friars, Secular Priests, &c. &c. under him. To this body you ascribed false doctrines, tricks, frauds and cruelties without end. You charged them with the propagation of idolatry and blasphemy; with keeping the people in ignorance; with nourishing superstition; with blowing the flames of persecution; with daily murdering, in the most horrid manner, the martyrs to the true faith. The Sovereign Pontiff himself, the corner-stone of the whole body, you constantly called Antichrist, the Scarlet Whore, the Beast, and the Man of Sin. And you prayed most vehemently for his overthrow, insisting Edition: current; Page: [69] that the system, of which he was the foundation, manifestly tended to the eternal damnation of the souls of the far greater part of the people of Europe.

Well! Napoleon arose. He hurled down the Pope; he overthrew the Antichrist, the Scarlet Whore, the Beast, the Man of Sin, and with him all the long list of Persecutors of the Saints. Napoleon and his associates did, in three years, what your prayers and preachings had not been able to effect in three centuries. The Pope was stripped of all temporal power; the Cardinals and Bishops were reduced to mere ciphers; the Monks were driven from their dens of laziness and debauchery; the tricks and frauds were exposed; the adored images were turned into fire-wood; the holy relics were laughed at; the light of truth was suffered freely to beam upon the minds of the people; religious persecution was put an end to; and all men were not only permitted, but also encouraged, openly to profess, pursue and enjoy, whatever species of religious faith and worship they chose. Every man became eligible to offices, trusts, and honours; and, throughout the domains of Italy and France, where a Church-of-England man would have been tied to a stake and roasted, rather than be suffered to fill an office of trust, or to preach to a congregation, religious liberty was, under Napoleon, made as perfect as in America.

These are facts, which none of you will dare openly to deny. They are as notorious as they will be, and ought to be, memorable.

Ought you not, therefore, to have rejoiced at this wonderful change in favour of religious liberty? How could you see 50 millions of souls set free without feeling it impossible to suppress an expression of your pleasure? How could you see the fall of Antichrist without putting up thanksgiving to that God, to whom you had so long been praying, whom you had so long been worrying with your importunities, for the accomplishment of that object? Was not this an event calculated to call forth your gratitude to Heaven? Ought it not to have been expected from you, that you should speak very cautiously in disapprobation of Napoleon and the French Republicans, who had effected what you had so long been praying for apparently in vain? Ought you not, if you had spoken at all of the sins of his ambition; if you had blamed him as an invader, a conqueror, to have touched him with a tender hand, considering the immense benefits which religious liberty had received in consequence of his invasions and conquests? Ought he not to have found in you, above all men living, if not merciful judges, at least, mild and moderate censors?

If this was what might naturally and justly have been expected from you, what must have been the surprise and indignation of those who saw you amongst the very fiercest of Napoleon’s foes; amongst the foulest of his calumniators; amongst the first and loudest of those who rejoiced at his fall; who heard you hail with rapture the return of “the ancient order of things,” and the re-establishment of the “venerable institutions” of Europe; who heard you joining in the Hosannas of the Monks, and styling the Cossacks and their associates “Deliverers!”

What was that “ancient order of things,” the return of which you hailed with such rapture? What were those “venerable institutions,” of which you thanked the Lord for the re-establishment? The Holy see of Rome was one, and the Inquisition was another. Thousands of subaltern “venerable institutions” naturally followed in the train of these; such Edition: current; Page: [70] as the Virgin Mary’s house at Loretto; the shrine of Saint Anthony; the Holy Cross; the exhibition of Saint Catherine’s wheel, of the Holy Thorn that penetrated Christ’s cheek. Hundreds and thousands of thousands of these “venerable” things, naturally followed the overthrow of him who had overthrown them. All the persecutions of the Protestants; all the frauds, insolence, and cruelty of the Romish Priests must have been in your view. You are not ignorant men. You knew to a moral certainty that the Pope, whom you had formerly led your flocks to believe was Antichrist, would be restored. You knew that, instead of a milder sway, he would naturally be more rigid than ever in the exercise of his power. All this you knew. You knew, that the toleration of all Protestant sects, the encouragement of them, the free use of reason on religious subjects, and the free circulation of religious opinions, which were so complete under Napoleon, would be instantly destroyed in the far greater part of Europe.

The holy father, whom you formerly called the “scarlet whore,” dyed in the blood of the Saints, the “beast,” as you used to call him, whose “mouth was full of blasphemies,” remounted his chair even before “the Most Christian King” got upon his throne. One of his first acts was to restore the Jesuits, that “ancient and venerable institution,” which had become so odious, on account of its wicked acts, that it had been abolished by all the Princes of Europe, and even by a former Pope himself. The next remarkable step was the re-establishment of the Inquisition in Spain, where it had been abolished by Napoleon on the day that he took possession of the Government of that country.

You yourselves well know what that tribunal was; but as some of the good people may not know the precise nature of that “venerable institution,” which Napoleon abolished, and which has been restored in consequence of the successes of the war, I will here insert an account of it from the last edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, under the words “Inquisition” and “Act of Faith,” as follows:—

“INQUISITION.—In the Church of Rome, a tribunal in several Roman Catholic countries, erected by the Popes for the examination and punishment of heretics.—This Court was founded in the 12th century, by Father Dominic and his followers, who were sent by Pope Innocent III. with orders to excite the Catholic Princes and people to extirpate heretics, to search into their number and quality, and to transmit a faithful account thereof to Rome. Hence they were called Inquisitors; and this gave birth to the formidable tribunal of the Inquisition, which was received in all Italy and the dominions of Spain, except the kingdom of Naples, and the Low Countries. This diabolical tribunal takes cognisance of heresy, judaism, mahometanism, sodomy, and polygamy; and the people stand in so much fear of it, that parents deliver up their children, husbands their wives, and masters their servants, to its officers, without daring in the least to murmur. The prisoners are kept for a long time, till they themselves turn their own accusers, and declare the cause of their imprisonment; for they are neither told their crime, nor confronted with witnesses. As soon as they are imprisoned their friends go into mourning, and speak of them as dead, not daring to solicit their pardon, lest they should be brought in as accomplices. When there is no shadow of proof against the pretended criminal, he is discharged, after suffering the most cruel tortures, a tedious and dreadful imprisonment, and the loss of the greatest part of his effects. The sentence against the prisoners is pronounced publicly, and with the greatest solemnity. In Portugal, they erect a theatre capable of holding 3000 persons; in which they place a rich altar, and raise seats on each side in the form of an amphitheatre. There the prisoners are placed; and over against them is a high chair, whither they are called, one by one, to hear their doom, from one of the Inquisitors.—These unhappy people know what they are to suffer by the clothes they wear that day. Those who appear in their own Edition: current; Page: [71] clothes are discharged, upon payment of a fine; those who have a santo benito or strait yellow coat without sleeves, charged with St. Andrew’s cross, have their lives but forfeit all their effects; those who have the resemblance of flames made of red serge, sewed upon their santo benito, without any cross, are pardoned, but threatened to be burnt if ever they relapse; but those who, besides these flames, have on their santo benito their own picture, surrounded with figures of devils, are condemned to expire in the flames. The Inquisitors, who are ecclesiastics, do not pronounce the sentence of death; but form and read an act, in which they say, that the criminal being convicted of such a crime, by his own confession, is, with much reluctance, delivered to the secular power to be punished according to his demerits; and this writing they give to the seven judges, who attend at the right side of the altar, who immediately pass sentence.

ACT OF FAITH.—In the Romish church, is a solemn day held by the Inquisition for the punishment of heretics, and the absolution of the innocent accused. They usually contrive the Auto to fall on some great festival that the execution may pass with the more awe and regard; at least it is always on a Sunday.—The Auto da Fé or Act of Faith, may be called the last act of the Inquisitorial tragedy; it is kind of gaol-delivery, appointed as oft as a competent number of prisoners in the Inquisition are convicted of heresy, either by their own voluntary or extorted confession, or on the evidence of certain witnesses. The process is thus:—In the morning they are brought into a great hall, where they have certain habits put on, which they are to wear in the procession. The procession is led up by Dominican Friars; after which come the penitents, some with san benitos, and some without, according to the nature of the crimes; being all in black-coats without sleeves and barefooted, with a wax candle in their hands. These are followed by the penitents who have narrowly escaped being burnt, who over their black coats have flames painted with their points turned downwards. Fuego revolto. Next come the negative and relapsed, who are to be burnt, having flames on their habits pointing upwards. After these come such as profess doctrines contrary to the faith of Rome, who, besides flames pointing upwards, have their picture painted on their breasts, with dogs, serpents, and devils, all open-mouthed about it. Each prisoner is attended with a familiar of the Inquisition; and those to be burnt have also a jesuit on each hand, who is continually preaching to them to abjure. After the prisoners come a troop of familiars on horseback, and after them the Inquisitors, and other officers of the Court, on mules; last of all, the Inquisitor-General, on a white horse, led by two men with black hats and green hat-bands. A scaffold is erected in the Teneiro de Pacs, big enough for two or three thousand people; at one end of which are the prisoners, at the other the Inquisitors After a sermon made up of encomiums on the Inquisition, and invectives against heretics, a priest ascends a desk near the middle of the scaffold, and having taken the adjuration of the penitents, recites the final sentence of those who are to be put to death; and delivers them to the secular arm, earnestly beseeching at the same time the secular power not to touch their blood, or put their lives in danger. The prisoners being thus in the hands of the civil Magistrate, are presently loaded with chains, and carried first to the secular gaol, and from hence in an hour or two brought before the civil Judge; who, after asking in what religion they intended to die, pronounces sentence on such as declare they die in the communion of Rome, that they shall be first strangled, and then burnt to ashes; on such as die in any other faith, that they be burnt alive. Both are immediately carried to the Ribera, the place of execution; where there are as many stakes set up as there are prisoners to be burnt, with a quantity of dry furze about them. The stakes of the professed, that is, such as persist in their heresy, are about four yards high, having a small board towards the top for the prisoner to be seated on. The negative and relapsed being first strangled and burnt, the professed mount their stakes by a ladder; and the Jesuits, after several repeated exhortations to be reconciled to the Church, part with them, telling them they leave them to the devil who is standing at their elbow to receive their souls, and carry them with him into the flames of hell. On this a great shout is raised, and the cry is, Let the dogs’ beards be made! which is done by thrusting flaming furzes fastened to long poles against their faces, till their faces are burnt to a coal, which is accompanied with the loudest acclamations of joy.—At last, fire is set to the furze at the bottom of the stake, over which the professed Edition: current; Page: [72] are chained so high, that the top of the flame seldom reaches higher than the board they sit on; so that they rather seem roasted than burnt.—There cannot be a more lamentable spectacle; the sufferers continually cry out, while they are able, Misericordia per amor de Dios! ‘Pity for the love of God!’ yet it is beheld by all sexes and ages with transports of joy and satisfaction.”

Is there a man in the whole world, whose heart is not steeled against all the cries of nature, who can read this without feeling his blood run cold? Yet this horrible institution has been restored by that Bourbon, whom we, by our wars, and at our expense, reseated on the throne of Spain! Aye, and we are now taxed to pay the interest of the enormous debt, contracted for this purpose! And yet, there are men so basely impudent as to assert, that our money was expended in obtaining the freedom and happiness of Europe!

Gentlemen, even laying the clergymen aside, can you, when you dismiss all prejudice; when you coolly reflect on what has been done; when you consider, that we found the Pope dethroned, the Jesuits scattered, the Bourbons driven out, and the Inquisition put down, and that our success has caused them all to be restored, and that the wars which produced that effect have reduced the people of England to such misery as to accept of charity at the hands of a Bourbon Prince; when you coolly——oh, no! not coolly, for coolness on such a subject is impossible—but, when you reflect on these things, and, at the same time remember what noble struggles our fathers maintained in the cause of religious liberty, are you not half maddened with shame and confusion? And do you, or can you, either believe or hope, that a state of things so unnatural, so monstrous, can possibly last? If you do, more words are useless; and if you do not I have already said more than enough.



On the Workings of Corruption’s Press.—On the Romsey Impostor, Jackson.On Chappel, the Pall-Mall Impostor.—On the vile Calumnies published by Walter of the Times.—On the Saving-Bank Bubble.—On the Scheme for preventing the Labouring People from Marrying.—On his Sinecures.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William

Well, George! how do you feel now? Do you not think, that the drama is drawing towards a close? Since the time, when I was shouldering a musket in the army, and when you were serving out grog and slops in the navy, what wondrous events have taken place! We have Edition: current; Page: [73] both been considerable actors in this grand drama; and our manner of acting may now be reviewed with a better chance of justice to us both than upon any former occasion. You have received immense sums of the public money; I have never received a farthing of that money, while I have paid away from my family more than fifteen thousand pounds in taxes. You have written pamphlets to urge the people on to war against the people of France; you have frequently foretold, in these publications, that the sinking fund would lower the Debt, and that prosperity would be the result of the measures of the Government, in which measures you have had a great share. I have, for more than eleven years, been opposed to all your assertions and opinions; I have foretold national ruin and misery as the result of those measures; you have become possessed of immense wealth and fine mansions and estates, while I have been put two years into a felon’s jail and have paid TO THE KING a thousand pounds sterling, in the shape of a fine. Yet, George, I question whether I am not pretty nearly as happy as you are! I am convinced, besides, that time and events have not yet done with us. Our hostile assertions and opinions have been pretty well put to the test already; but, the exposure of the trial is not yet nearly so full as it shortly will be. The approaching Session of Parliament will open millions of pairs of eyes, which have been glued up by false alarms: for the last twenty-five years. And, here am I, at my post, fresh from the fields, with a brace of sons, bred up in a mortal hatred of all that I so lustily hate, ready to stick fast to the skirts of the system, having only to regret, that Pitt, Dundas, and Perceval are not alive, and most sincerely wishing good health to you, to Canning and to Castlereagh.

In the meanwhile, I think it not unuseful to address you upon some matters by way of preparation to the grand scenes that we are about to behold. And, first, on the base attempts of Corruption’s press, particularly with regard to myself, and more especially through the means of one Jackson of Romsey in Hampshire, and of a bookseller named Chappel, in Pall Mall, London.

I was not weak enough to suppose, that, when the Register began to find its way throughout the kingdom to the extent of between twenty and thirty thousand every week, that Corruption’s sons would not make a stir. Indeed, when, after a silence of more than seven years, the corrupt proprietors of the Times, Courier, Morning Post, and Sun, were galled into the assertion of that audacious falsehood of Mr. Hunt and myself being engaged in plotting with my Lord Cochrane in the King’s Bench Prison, while I was at Peckham in Surrey and Mr. Hunt at Wanstead in Essex, I was not at all surprised. I knew, that there was no falsehood, of which they were not capable; I knew their minds and hearts to be fashioned to the inventing and the perpetrating of any species and any degree of villany; and, I was well aware, that the more decided their conduct in this way, the greater they would expect their profit to be.—These vile men appear to have believed, that something like a treasonable plot would be made out, by hook or by crook; and, upon this belief, they, at once, ventured upon the infamous assertion before-mentioned, and added, in the most positive terms, that I, having assisted in contriving and preparing the plot, set off to Botley, the night before it was to be put in execution; though I have been in and near London from the middle of November to this day. And yet these atrocious men have the effrontery to call upon the law-officers of the Crown to punish even petitioners as Edition: current; Page: [74] libellers! Their object in these bold falsehoods, was, to cause the nation to believe, that all who contend for a Reform of the Parliament, have it in view to excite people to riot and to commit assassinations. About 200 desperate men, consisting chiefly of starving sailors, they magnify into a formidable insurrection, and, which men, though they had arms in their hands, did no violence to any body, except in the unlawful seizure of the arms and in the wounding (if that really was so) of one man who attempted to stop them, and who laid hold of one of them. This contemptible riot, which consisted of a less number of persons than one-half of the police-officers and constables who were actually on foot, was swelled up into a most formidable insurrection, and, though it was well known to every one in London, that the rioters had no connection whatever with the Meeting in Spa-fields, every endeavour was made use of by the corrupt press so to connect the two, that every person of property should feel alarmed whenever a Meeting for Reform was about to take place.

The people in the country now know how false and malicious these representations were; but, the people in the country are not yet fully acquainted with the infamy of the corrupt press upon this memorable occasion. As the matter now stands exposed, the exposure will do great good; but, still, justice has not yet been done to it. It is already known, that the first meeting in Spa-fields was called by an advertisement, signed by a person of the name of Dyall; that Mr. Hunt was invited and requested to attend that meeting; and that the meeting was conducted chiefly by him. It is already well known, that the words plot, conspiracy, and insurrection, found in what were called Mr. Preston’s “confessions” were foisted in by the infamous press, and that Mr. Preston never uttered any such words. And is not this a species of wickedness committed by nobody in the world but by the men who conduct this corrupt press? Was it ever before known, that men could with impunity publish a false statement of the examination of a prisoner, brought before a magistrate on a criminal charge affecting the life of the prisoner? Was it ever before known, that men could, with impunity, put into the mouth of such prisoner, words which amounted to a confession of his having been guilty of treason? What means of defence has Mr. Preston against the prejudices which these men have thus excited against him? What means has he of obtaining justice against them? He must possess a large sum of money, before he can take one single step towards the prosecution of them. And, they know that he has no money, while they are wallowing in wealth. Here, indeed, is a case which calls for the activity of the law-officers of the Crown; for, if a poor man’s liberty and life are thus to be assailed with impunity, what safety is there for him?

But, still, base and infamous as the conduct of these sons of corruption must appear, it is not seen in its true colours, until the following curious facts (stated in Mr. Hone’s Account of the Riots, part ii.) are known to the world. Dyall, as appears by this statement, long before Mr. Hunt came to town for the first meeting in Spa-fields, was taken before Gifford, a police justice. After some talk with Dyall, Gifford got him to show him the petition, or address, or whatever else it was called, which he (Dyall) and his associates intended to bring forward at the said first meeting. Dyall, who had no idea of anything wrong in what he was doing, suffered Gifford to take a copy of this curious document. “This to Lord Burleigh shall,” Gifford seems to have parodied; and away he sent it to Lord Sidmouth, the Edition: current; Page: [75] Secretary of State for the Home Department! Thus, then, did this very chief conspirator, Dyall, actually put the Government in possession of what was meant to be moved upon the occasion! The petition, though it must have been harmless as to intention, did nevertheless contain some very gross absurdities, some wild projects, some of those whimsical projects and sentiments belonging to the Spencean Plan. Thus was the Government in full possession of all that, as they must have thought, was going to take place. But, up came Mr. Hunt and spoiled the whole thing. When he came to the meeting and had the document of Messrs. Dyall and Gifford presented to him: “O, no!” said he, “I will have nothing to do with that.” In the end, he brought forward a set of resolutions and a petition framed by himself; and, of course, the document, the precious document, the “treasonable” document, as the Courier and Times called it, and which Gifford had so highly prized, was left to be a monument of the latter’s sagacity and vigilance, but into the trammels of which Mr. Hunt’s good sense and promptitude and straightforward views prevented him from falling. But, now, mark, George, and I hope the people will mark it well. The Courier, which is printed about the middle of the day, did, on the day of the meeting, state, that the meeting was at that moment going on, that the petition had just been moved by Mr. Hunt, and that it was very seditious and treasonable, containing, amongst other things, a part of which it then inserted. But, this part, was a part of Dyall’s document, no part of which document was ever read at the meeting from first to last! So that it is clear, that, in the full tiptoe expectation that Mr. Hunt would fall into the trammels of Dyall’s document, that document had been given to the proprietor of the Courier beforehand! Thus, was that son of Corruption ready armed to pour out upon Mr. Hunt the charge of treasonable language, and thus did he send that charge forth amongst all the tax-eaters and all the timid fools all over the kingdom! How this darling son of Corruption came in possession of Dyall’s document; who it was that gave it to him; what was the purpose which it was intended to answer: of these I shall leave the public to form their own opinion, and I am not at all afraid, that with these facts before them, the great body of the people will derive confidence in the cause of Reform from the fate of this vile attempt to make it a subject of alarm.

From this odious picture of the more general efforts of Corruption’s press, I come to the particular instance of Jackson, at Romsey, which is only a few miles from your own prince-like mansion and estate. This Jackson has published a paper, price three half-pence, the object of which is to defame me and to throw suspicion upon my motives. This paper is called a Register and my name is placed in large characters, at, or near, the head of it. So that here, merely in the typography of the thing, is a proof that this Jackson and his abettors and patrons saw no hope of selling it, unless they could entice purchasers by the lure of my name. The manifest intention of the use of these names was to make people believe, that the work was written by me. Imposture, however, seldom succeeds in the end; and that this imposture, though well enough contrived, has failed, the following curious facts will prove. Jackson, the dirty tool at Romsey, has, it seems, a brother in London; or, at any rate, a person not ashamed to own that degree of relationship with the Romsey man, went, a few days ago, to Mr. Hone, bookseller, in the Old Bailey, London, and offered him a parcel of the Romsey trash for sale. After some conversation upon the subject, Mr. Hone declined the purchase, giving it as his opinion, that Edition: current; Page: [76] the thing would not sell in London. He discovered from his brother, who very grossly calumniated me, that the Romsey fabrication would not sell in the country; as, indeed, how should it, seeing that it is a tissue of misrepresentation and lies, consisting of garbled extracts from my early writings, and being, altogether, a mass of incomprehensible nonsense, having nothing intelligible to plain honest people, and being, in short, a poor feeble effort at malice against any man whose writings are so clear to the understanding, are so manifestly intended and tending to produce peace and happiness in the country. Brother Jackson, not finding Mr. Hone willing to purchase at a penny each, went on lowering his price, till he came to about a halfpenny, observing to Mr. Hone that money was not so much the object as circulation. At last, though tendered at this low price he was obliged to carry his trash away, four hundred of them in number, with a recommendation from Mr. Hone to carry them to the trunk-makers! Mr. Hone, however, upon reflection on the baseness of such a transaction, and thinking that justice towards the public required that I should have the means of exposing it, and especially reflecting on what Brother Jackson had said to him about those who were in the background in this publication and about money being no object in the affair, went to, or sent for, Brother Jackson, bought his 400 papers for ten shillings and sixpence, which is a little more than one farthing each; and, of these 400 papers Mr. Hone has been so good as to make me a present, and I have them now actually in my possession, together with Brother Jackson’s receipt, in the following words: “Received of Mr. Hone, 27. Dec. 1816, half a guinea, for the bundle of Romsey Register, sent to me for sale, 400 copies.” “(Signed) DANIEL JACKSON.”

Now, George, this man told Mr. Hone who were the real authors of this base and foolish performance; he told him besides, that he need be in no fear of any prosecution for publishing it; and he told him that he would be sure to be safe in publishing against me. But, George, I will not imitate the baseness of my and the people’s enemies. I will repeat nothing against any one upon the words of such men as the Jacksons; but, I will say, that, according to brother Jackson’s story, it proves, that I was correct, when I said, that it was impossible for Lord Palmerston to be guilty of an act so base, so cowardly, and so infamous. Who it really was, who was thus guilty, I will leave the people to guess, and will leave the guilty party to the hearty detestation and contempt of that same people. But, that the party, be he who he might, had plenty of money at command will appear clearly enough, if we observe, that the four hundred sheets of paper did not cost less than sixteen or eighteen shillings, and that the printing could not have cost less than sixteen shillings more, to which if we add half-a-crown for carriage and a shilling for postage, here is a loss of one pound five shillings upon those 400 papers only; and, of course, the Romsey Jackson must be a person of rarely disinterested and most generous devotion to the cause of Corruption, or he must be supplied with money from some quarter other than his own purse. Not knowing the man, I cannot decide this question: you, who are his near neighbour, possibly may be able to form a better judgment on the subject.

Base as this trick is, there is one Chappel, a bookseller, in Pall Mall, London, who has been made the tool to play off a still baser trick. This man is a downright impostor, without any possible shuffle; for he has advertised a thing called, “The Friend of the People, an entire NEW Edition: current; Page: [77] Work, by William Cobbett.” This is a heap of trash also, a mass of misrepresentations and falsehoods, taking detached parts of my works, written many years ago, garbling them, and disfiguring the whole. But, what a proud thing for me, that the abettors of such men as this Chappel, with all their means, are unable to get people even to look into their publications without cheating them into it by the use of my name, by making them believe that the thing is actually mine! What! have I beat them all to this degree? Can they, amongst all the pensioned and sinecure authors, find no one who is able to write any thing that the public will look at, without stealing my name to put at the head of their things? If this do not satisfy my desire of fame and victory, nothing can. This imposture of Chappel has, I suppose, been borrowed from the ass, who put on the lion’s skin; and the trick answered very well till the ass began to bray, or toote; but (and Chappel should remember it) the moment he opened his mouth, his noise betrayed him, and the people who had been imposed on by his outward appearance, cudgelled him soundly for his pains.

It has given me much satisfaction to perceive the great efforts which have been made use of to injure my character; because, always knowing the charges against me to be either false or ridiculous, I have, of course, felt quite able at all times to answer them, while the fact of their being made is a clear proof of the great effect which my writings are producing, and that is what I have principally in view. The press of corruption, as if it acted under one common command, abstained from even alluding to me or my writings for more than six years. This was certainly wise; for, what was the use of showing hatred without being able to answer? Now, however, it has been unable to restrain itself. It has been so deeply stung, that it has cried out in spite of all its efforts to keep silence. Like a stubborn and hardened thief, under the lash of the beadle, it long bit its lips and writhed its limbs, seeming resolved not to cry out, but, at last, came a stripe in a tender part, and forth it bellowed its cries, mingled, thief-like, with lies and curses.

That old acquaintance of the Treasury, Walter, has left a son, who is proprietor of the Times newspaper, and who first bursted forth upon this occasion. Not with any attempt to answer me. O, no! but to defame me personally and to excite suspicions as to my motives. This never did yet, and never can, weigh a hair against fact and argument. Besides, I have, many times, exposed the falsehood of the charges which this man has made against me. Nevertheless, as some of my present readers may not have seen this exposure, and, as it embraces some very interesting and very useful information relative to the press of this country, I will here make the exposure again, and, I choose to make it in an address to you because I mean to state some facts of which you had a perfect knowledge, and to challenge you to contradict me, if you can.

The charges which this man brings against me are these: First, that, when about to be brought up for judgment at the time when I was so severely punished for writing about the flogging of the English local militia-men in the County of Cambridge, under the guard of German troops, and for which writing I was sentenced to pass two years in a felon’s jail, to pay a thousand pounds to THE KING, and when all this had been suffered, to be held to bail for SEVEN YEARS, in the amount of THREE THOUSAND POUNDS myself and ONE THOUSAND POUNDS each my two sureties; when this sentence was about to be Edition: current; Page: [78] passed, Walter says that I made a proposition to the Government to this effect; that, if the proceedings were dropped; that is to say, that if I were not brought up for judgment, but suffered to remain unmolested, I never would publish another Register or any other thing. Now, George, suppose this to have been true. Had I not a right to do this? Was there any thing dishonest or base in this? I was under no obligation to continue to write. The country had done nothing for me. I was in no way bound to sacrifice myself and family if I could avoid it. I was in the state of a soldier surrounded by an irresistible enemy; and has a soldier so situated ever been ashamed to ask his life and to accept of it upon condition of not serving again during the war?

I might let the thing rest here. This answer would be complete, were I to allow the charge of Walter to be true; but, the charge is basely false. No proposition of any sort was ever made by me, or by my authority, to the Government. The grounds of the charge were as follows: a few days before I was brought up for judgment, I went home to pass the remaining short space of personal freedom with my family. I had just begun farming, and also planting trees, with the hope of seeing them grow up as my children grew. I had a daughter fifteen years of age, whose birth-day was just then approaching, and, destined to be one of the happiest and one of the most unhappy of my life, on that day my dreadful sentence was passed. One son eleven years old, another nine years old, another six years old, another daughter five years old, another three years old, and another child nearly at hand. You and Perceval might have laughed at all this. It was your turn to laugh then; but, the public will easily believe that, under the apprehensions of an absence of years, and the great chance of loss of health, if not of life, in a prison, produced nothing like laughter at Botley! It was at this crisis, no matter by what feelings actuated, I wrote to my attorney, Mr. White, in Essex-street, to make the proposition stated above. But fits of fear and despair have never been of long duration in my family. The letter was hardly got to the post-office at Southampton before the courage of my wife and eldest daughter returned. Indignation and resentment took place of grief and alarm; and they cheerfully consented to my stopping the letter. Mr. Peter Finnerty was at my house at the time; a post-chaise was got, and he came off to London, during the night, and prevented Mr. White from acting on the letter. I suffered my heavy punishment, but I have preserved my life, health, and the use of my pen, and, what I value still more is, that all this family have also had uninterrupted health, are all strong in frame and sound in mind, and have imbibed an everlasting hatred against those corruptions which have finally brought their country into its present state of misery. Now, Mr. Finnerty, whom I have not had the pleasure to see for some years, is alive and in London. Mr. White is also alive. The public will be sure, that I should not dare to have made the above statement if it had not been true to the very letter. And thus endeth the first charge of Walter.

His Second charge is that of inconsistency; that is to say, that I formerly held opinions, that I do not now hold; but, which former opinions were in direct opposition to those which I now hold and which I now promulgate, so much to the sorrow and the annoyance of the corrupt. Now, George, what a foolish charge is this! What do we live for but to correct our errors; to grow wiser from experience; and to Edition: current; Page: [79] do better at last than at first? Besides have not I been the first to state not only that I was in error, but to give the reasons for the change. God forbid, that I should rely upon your example as a justification of any part of my conduct; but, have not you, after having, for years, been a strenuous supporter of friendly societies, recently declared them to be mischievous, and that saving-banks are the thing? Did you not oppose, with all your might, the Corn Bill, in 1814, and did you not support the same bill, or, at least, not oppose it, in 1815? But, has not the Parliament passed scores of laws, and afterwards repealed them upon a change of opinion? However, I choose rather to take, as far as I can without profanity, the example of St. Paul, who was, at one time, not only not a Christian himself, but a persecutor of the Church of Christ, and who, notwithstanding this, became at last the greatest of all the Apostles, and, in fact, was, more than all other men put together, the cause of the triumph of that religion which he had once so eagerly persecuted. I have never heard any one accuse St. Paul of inconsistency; no one, that I know of, has ever called him a turn-coat; yet, it would be inconsistent indeed to deny that he was a turn-coat, if I am one. I can remember, when I most firmly believed, that your pamphlet about the Finances, which I first read in America, was all truth and wisdom; and am I to be called a turn-coat, because upon examination, with the advantage of additional knowledge, I find it to be a heap of falsehoods and nonsense? I once most firmly believed, that the Ministers, Pitt, Dundas, and their associates, were the most pure and honest of men; but, did I become a turn-coat because I did not look upon them in this light after the exposures of 1804 and 1805? When in America, and for a year or two after I came home, I did not believe that there could be any such thing as seat-selling; but, was I a turn-coat, because I did believe it after the famous disclosures of the famous year 1809?

No, George, this is not being a turn-coat; a turn-coat means a wretch, who changes his principles and language for hire; and, until Walter can bring some proof of my ever having received, or asked for, any thing of any sort from the Government, all his trash about my change of principles will avail corruption nothing. It may be a subject of regret with corruption, that I was not fool enough to persevere in error; but it is no subject of regret with the friends of freedom, who, on the contrary, rejoice at it exceedingly.

What has been said is quite enough to satisfy any one, that the charge is foolish and false; but, since I have thought it right to answer the charge, I will not stop here. I will show, I will remind you, that, not only have I not changed from any bad motive, but that, if I had been base enough to be a dependent of the Treasury, I might have been in that state, and, doubtless, might have escaped all punishments, and might, like other writers, have grown rich at the public expense, and have quartered my family upon that same public. I will tell my story in plain language, George, and, if it makes any disagreeable disclosures, thank Walter, the Romsey Jackson and his prompters, and others of that description.

When I began writing in America, the country raged with attacks on Pitt and on England. I was an Englishman, and following that impulse, which was so natural to my spirit and my age, under such circumstances, I took the part of my country, without knowing much, and, indeed, without caring much about the grounds of her war against the people of Edition: current; Page: [80] France. I had read little at the age of twenty-eight, and I had had no experience in such matters, having been in the army to the age of twenty-six, from the age of sixteen or seventeen. I knew that I was an Englishman, and, hearing my country attacked, I became her defender through thick and thin, always confounding the Government of my country with my country herself. That I laboured with great effect is well known; and, it is also well known, that, amidst the turmoil of passion which existed in that country, I was finally most unjustly compelled to pay an amount of damages, which together with the consequences of it, actually deprived me of every shilling I had in the world, and sent me home upon a subscription, raised by some very worthy men in Canada.

Now, it has been asserted, and particularly by a base tool of corruption, who publishes a newspaper at Exeter, that, when I came home, I was disappointed; that the Government did not receive and reward me agreeably to my deserts; and, that, THEREFORE, I turned against it. You, George, know this to be false. However, the facts were these. Very soon after my arrival, I was invited to dine at Mr. Windham’s, who was then Secretary at War, and did dine in company of Pitt, who was very polite to me, and whose manners I very much admired. At this dinner, besides the brave and honest (though misguided) host, were Mr. Canning, Mr. Frere, Mr. George Ellis, and some others, whom I do not now recollect. I was never presumptuous in my life, and I regarded this as a great act of condescension on the part of Mr. Windham, and more especially on the part of Mr. Pitt, of whose talents and integrity I had then the highest possible opinion; for I, at that time, had no idea of such things as Bank bubbles and Lord Melville’s accounts.

What reception could be more flattering to a man who had been a private soldier but a few years before, and who, even then, had not more than six or seven hundred pounds in the world? I was well aware, that Mr. Pitt never admitted newspaper writers to such an honour. What reason, therefore, had I to be discontented with my reception? However, I might, it will be said, look for something more solid than this. You, George, well know that I did not; and you also know, that I had something more solid offered to me. And, this it was. John Heriot, was at that time, the proprietor of two newspapers, called the Sun, and the True Briton, the former an evening and the latter a morning paper. I had heard that these two papers had been set on foot by you, who were then one of the Secretaries of the Treasury, and that, when set on foot, the profits of them had been given to Heriot. Now, mark, that Mr. Hammond, who was then Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Department, offered to me the proprietorship of one of those papers as a gift, and I remember very well that he told me, that this offer was made in consequence of a communication with you, or your colleague Mr. Long, I forget which. This was no trifling offer. The very types, presses, &c. were worth a considerable sum. Mr. Hammond, who was a very honest as well as a very zealous and able man, had behaved with great kindness to me: had invited me frequently to his house, where I dined, I recollect, with Sir William Scott, with Lord Hawkesbury (now Lord Liverpool), and several other persons of rank; and, in short, had shown me so much attention, that I felt great reluctance in giving the following answer to his offer: “I am very much obliged to you and to the gentlemen, of whom you speak, for this offer; but, though I am very poor, Edition: current; Page: [81] my desire is to render the greatest possible service to my country, and, I am convinced, that, by keeping myself wholly free, and relying upon my own means, I shall be able to give the Government much more efficient-support, than if any species of dependence could be traced to me. At the same time, I do not wish to cast blame on those who are thus dependent; and I do not wish to be thought too conceited and too confident of my own powers and judgment, to decline any advice that you, or any one in office, may, at any time, be good enough to offer me; and, I shall always be thankful to you for any intelligence or information, that any of you may be pleased to give me.” Mr. Hammond did not appear at all surprised at my answer; and I shall always respect him for what he said upon hearing it. His words were nearly these: “Well, I must say, that I think you take the honourable course and I most sincerely wish it may also be the profitable one.” I ought not upon this occasion to omit to say, that I always understood, that Lord Grenville, who was then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was not one of those who approved of the baseness and dependence of the press.

Now, Mr. Hammond is alive; and, I am sure, if appealed to, he will not deny that what I have here stated is true. I do not mean, of course, to be exact as to every word; but as to the substance, as to the full and fair meaning, I engage that Mr. Hammond, whom I have not seen for twelve or thirteen years, will frankly vouch. It is not pleasant for me to name persons in this way; nor would I do it merely for my own character; but, when the cause of my country is attacked through me, I think myself fully justified in detailing all the circumstances, and in appealing to all the evidence that exists.

There occurred, about the period last spoken of, a circumstance which brought me in contact with you, George; and the statement of it will show how careful I was to guard my fingers against touching public money. I had brought home with me a large trunk or two of old books. These, when I arrived at Falmouth, the Collector, Mr. Pelew, told me I ought not to pay duty for, as they were merely library books and for private use, and not intended for sale; but, that he could not remit the duty; that the trunks must go round to London; and that, a memorial to the Treasury, addressed to you, would give the books untaxed. I addressed such memorial to you; and, I received for answer, that the duty must be paid, but that the Treasury would give me the amount. No, thank ye, said I. I wanted no communication of this sort. I paid the duty, and left you the money to lay out in some other way. This was a trifling sum; but, it shows how scrupulous I was upon this head. Little did I imagine, that you possessed an estate in Hampshire at that time, and that I should live to see troops of baronets and country ’squires creeping at your heels!

The newspaper, which I set up, very soon failed. It was not, I found, an affair of talent but of trick. I could not sell paragraphs. I could not throw out hints against a man’s or woman’s reputation in order to bring the party forward to pay me for silence. I could do none of those mean and infamous things, by which the daily press, for the far greater part, was supported, and which enabled the proprietors to ride in chariots, while their underlings were actually vending lies by the line and inch. For a short time I was without writing at all, when, the change of Ministry having put Addington in place, and Mr. Windham in the Opposition, Edition: current; Page: [82] the latter, with Dr. Laurence, prevailed on me to undertake a weekly paper, and they engaged to enable me to set it on foot, for, really, I had not myself the means. But, these advances were made and expended upon the express and written conditions, that I should never be under the influence of any body. The money was to be looked upon as sunk in the risk; and I was never to be looked upon as under any sort of obligation to any of the parties. It was long before I would consent to the thing at all; but, when I did, it was upon these express and written conditions. And never did any one of the persons who advanced the money, attempt, in the slightest degree, to influence my opinions, which were frequently opposed to their own.

When the Whigs, as they were called, came into power, and when Mr. Windham came to fill the high office of Secretary of State for the War and Colonial Departments, every one thought, that my turn to get rich was come. I was importuned by many persons to take care of myself, as they called it. But, as soon as I found from him, that he actually was in place, I told him, “Now, Sir, to make all smooth with regard to me, I beg you to be assured, that it is my resolution to have no place, and not to touch one single farthing of the public money, in any shape whatever;” and justice to his memory demands that I should say, that he, upon that occasion, told me, that I never should forfeit any part of his esteem by opposing the Ministry; “No,” said he, “nor even by any censure that you may think it your duty to pass upon my own conduct.” Mr. Windham is not alive to appeal to; but, my Lord Folkestone is, and his Lordship, though not present upon this particular occasion, was well acquainted with all the facts, and, I shall not easily forget, that I was, by Mr. Windham, made the bearer of an offer of a Lordship of the Admiralty to Lord Folkestone, which the latter (will you believe it, George!) declined to accept of, though it was a clear thousand a year for doing little or nothing!

After these transactions came the prosecution under Perceval and by the mouth of Gibbs, of which I have spoken before, and the misrepresentations with regard to which have given rise to this relation. If I am asked how it happened that Walter came in possession of the fact of my having written to Mr. White the letter which was recalled by Mr. Finnerty, I answer, that I cannot tell; but, that I suspect that it was communicated to him (with a suppression of the recalling) by a wretch whom he knows to be without an equal in the annals of infamy, not excepting the renowned Jonathan Wild, and which wretch I will, when I have time, drag forth, and hold him up to the horror of mankind.

Now George, I am aware, that I have bestowed too much space upon matters belonging to myself; but, there was a necessity for saying something, not for my own sake, as I said before, so much as for the sake of the cause of the country, which has, by the hirelings of the press, been attempted to be stabbed through me, who have now so large a portion of the press in my hands. It would not become me to be answering calumnies every week of my life; but, I beg the public to bear in mind, that if every dirty and foolish attack does not draw me instantly forth, they may always confidently rely, that no man will ever be able to bring against me any charge involving dishonesty or dishonour, that I cannot, and that I will not, prove to be false. There is another circumstance, to which the people ought to attend; and that is, that there is such a thing as envy as well as hatred, and that the effects of the former are very Edition: current; Page: [83] nearly the same as those of the latter. There are writers, who pass for very good friends of freedom, and, indeed, are so very much attached to the cause, that they cannot endure the idea of a rival, especially if he carry away, however unintentionally, a considerable part of their readers, that is to say of their profits. I have read of a nation of savages, who entertain the strange notion, that when any one murders another of superior strength or talent, the murderer instantly becomes possessed of the envied qualities of the deceased. I rather think that the writers of a paper called the Independent Whig are no very remote descendants of this singular nation.

Having disposed of these calumniators for the present, and until they have had another run of a month or two, I now come, George, to notice your Saving-Bank Bubble. You were for a long time, the great patron of Friendly Societies, and procured several Acts of Parliament to be passed for their encouragement. But, as if by inspiration, you, all at once, discovered, that these were bad things; that they collected men together; that when so collected, they got drunk and talked, the naughty rogues! Yes, and even talked politics too! And, it might have been added, that they very frequently heard one of their members read the Register! It must be confessed, that this was intolerable, and, therefore, no one could be surprised when you came out with your new scheme of Saving-Banks, by the means of which the pennies of the poor were to be put together, while their persons were kept asunder! What a bubble! At a time, when it is notorious, that one-half of the whole nation are in a state little short of starvation; when it is notorious, that hundreds of thousands of families do not know, when they rise, where they are to find a meal during the day; when the far greater part of the whole people, much more than half of them, are paupers: at such a time to bring forth a project for collecting the savings of journeymen and labourers in order to be lent to the Government and to form a fund for the support of the lenders in sickness and old age! The Company of Projectors, who, in the reign of George the First, wanted a charter granted them for the purpose of “making deal boards out of saw-dust;” this Company just saves you from the imputation of having, in the Saving-Bank Scheme, been the patron of the most ridiculous project that ever entered into the mind of man. This scheme was, it seems, of Edinburgh origin. That seat of all that is servile in politics and religion. That favourite resort of supple slaves and quack critics, whose conceit and impudence are surpassed only by their shallowness and dirty ambition. The object of the scheme was, to make the poor people believe themselves to be fundholders, and, thus, to range them on the side of the paper-system. How foolish the scheme was is now seen; but the object of it ought not to be forgotten.

But, let us see a little how the matter would have stood, if you could have prevailed on the labouring people to give up two, three, or four pence a week each. In the space of seven years, at 4d. a week, a man would have deposited 6l. 1s. Od.; and, if accumulated interest were added, the amount at the end of the seven years, would have been about seven pounds. So that, by pinching a little out of his already too small wages, he would, at the end of seven years, have possessed seven pounds. But, all this time, he must have full employment, and must enjoy uninterrupted health. However, the curious thing would be, in this case, that, while he was saving this sum out of his scanty meals, he Edition: current; Page: [84] would as things now are, pay seventy pounds to the Government in taxes, which at the rate of interest supposed in the former case, would, at the end of seven years, amount to about eighty-two pounds!

I have here supposed the case of the common day-labourer who receives no more than seven shillings a week; and, whether we take the beer, salt, leather, soap, candles, tea, sugar, tobacco, spirits, &c., which each family use, or whether we take the number of families and compare it with the total amount of the taxes, we shall find, that every such man really does pay ten pounds a-year out of eighteen pounds of wages, and that Mr. Preston’s calculation is not at all exaggerated. Mr. Preston is a lawyer of great eminence; he has (whether to his profit or not, I do not know), become possessed of a great, or, at any rate, an extensive landed estate; he is a Member of Parliament for a borough; and, what is more, he has always been a staunch Pittite, and so (with what degree of consistency is not for me to say) remains to this hour. He is, therefore, no Jacobin; he does not want confusion; he cannot desire to see all property destroyed. And yet he distinctly asserts, that, out of eighteen pounds of wages, every labourer pays ten pounds in taxes, and I know that he asserts what is correct, except that he has, very wisely, kept within bounds.

This being the case, what a famous Saving-Bank System might be adopted by taking off the labourer’s taxes, and by putting the ten pounds a-year into an accumulating fund! Then, at the end of seven years of health and of industry, the labourer would be possessed of eighty-two pounds, which would be something, indeed, not only to ward off misery from times of sickness and old age, but to give a man a start in the world. You will, I know, say, that the Government stands in need of these taxes. I know it does, according to the present system of expense, which I contend ought to be changed. But, at any rate, this is nothing to my argument; for what I say, and indeed, what I prove is, that it is a scheme little short of a sign of madness, to propose to better the lot of the labourer by inducing him to pinch his belly to the amount of six pounds in seven years, while, in that same seven years, seventy pounds are paid by him in taxes.

The scheme for preventing the labouring classes from marrying has in it an equal portion of folly with the addition of a very large portion of insolent cruelty. The apprehensions of the Government, and of those who depend on it, have given rise to numerous inventions. They are alarmed, and very justly, at the enormous increase of the Poor-rates, which, since the commencement of the war against the people of France, have swelled up from 2¼ millions to 8 millions a-year in England and Wales alone; and, we must observe, that these rates have increased in amount more within the last ten years, than within the twenty years before. Besides, there is no probability, that they have not now arrived at the pitch of ten or twelve millions a-year. This I have, for more than eleven years past, been foretelling; and, I now foretel, that, if the present system be persevered in, and, if a reform of the Parliament do NOT take place, the Poor-rates will, in three years from this day, amount to more than the whole of the rental of the kingdom, houses, lands and all.

Of this, I believe, many Gentlemen even in Parliament, are now well convinced; and, therefore, divers schemes are on foot to prevent this dreadful catastrophe. The only scheme that could be effectual would be Edition: current; Page: [85] to reduce the taxes to what they were before the French wars; but, this scheme is never mentioned by any of the schemers, some of whom have proposed to refuse parish relief to all persons who are able to work, whether they can get work or not; and, the Courier newspaper, in putting forth a justification of this scheme, said, that “we must be cruel to be kind.” Meaning, that the poor must be made to suffer, in order to prevent them from marrying and increasing. One of the Correspondents of the Board of Agriculture reckons the early marriages of the labouring classes amongst the chief causes of the national distress, and another proposes to visit with severe punishment the parents of bastards. So that here the labouring classes, who raise all the food, build all the houses, make all the clothes, get in all the fuel, are to have no share of those enjoyments, which Nature has insured to them by her very first and most imperative laws. But, this doctrine of celibacy, as dished up for the labouring classes, and the origin of which I shall presently notice, would have passed without any particular observation on my part, did I not believe, that it was really intended by some persons, to be acted upon, during the ensuing Session of Parliament. One would suppose, that that assembly must anticipate work enough without entertaining such a scheme; but, the scheme is a favourite with all those (who are very numerous), who look upon the poor as rivals in the work of tax-eating, and who begin to see, that, unless the Poor-rates can be reduced, they cannot go on with their present receipts. The corrupt press, has, too, been busy in putting forth the scheme and recommending it to be adopted. In the Country, the Justices talk about it. I met one last summer, when the following dialogue took place:—


“Well, Mr. Cobbett, what are we to do with the poor next winter?”


“We must feed and clothe them.”


Something must be done to get rid of this intolerable burden, or else the land must go uncultivated, for no man can pay rent and rates too.”


“Yes, Sir, something must be done; but we cannot begin with the poor. They must be fed, and they will be fed, whether rents be paid or not.”


“But, do you think, that they ought to be allowed to marry, and then to come to others to keep their children for them?”


“That is a large question, Sir. They would want no others to keep their children, if the articles they consume were not all so heavily taxed as to take from them more than the half of their wages.”


“Ah! we shall never see the Government-taxes taken off. They are wanted.”


“Then, I am quite sure, that our Poor-rates will soon be double what they are now.”


“But, Sir, do you not think, that the Poor-laws have been very much misunderstood, and that the Act of Queen Elizabeth never meant that the able poor should be relieved?”


“The Act meant, that all should be relieved, who were unable to procure subsistence themselves; and, common sense appears to me to say, that it is of no consequence whether the disability consists in bodily weakness or in a want of employment.”


“There must be an Act passed to prevent the poor from marrying. What is done cannot be undone; but, they should have warning, that Edition: current; Page: [86] those who have children in consequence of future marriages, will have no relief, and that, if they marry, they do it at their peril.”


“An Act so at war with justice and nature never will be passed, and, if it were, it would bring swift destruction on all who attempted to put it in force.”

Now, this was a very good sort of man; by no means one of those harsh and unfeeling men that we sometimes meet with in such offices; and, I am very sure, that his modesty would have prevented him from making these observations, if the opinions had not become very current in his circle. The father of this dreadful scheme was Mr. Malthus, a clergyman of the Church of England, who, seeing the alarming increase of pauperism, seems not to have looked at the real cause, the taxes, but to have cast about him for some means of checking the increase of the breed; as if paupers were a distinct race amongst human beings, as wolves and asses are amongst four-footed animals. Mr. Malthus, however, has received a complete answer from the pen of Dr. Charles Hall,* in a work published by the latter in 1813, and from which work I shall here insert an extract, requesting all labouring men as well as all Members of Parliament to read it with attention.

Mr. Malthus, after stating the evils of pauperism, and expressing his wish to check them, says:—

To this end I should propose a regulation to be made, declaring, that no child born from any marriage taking place after the expiration of a year from the date of the law, and no illegitimate child born two years from the same date, should ever be entitled to parish assistance. After the public notice, which I have proposed, had been given, to the punishment of nature he should be left; the punishment of severe want: all parish assistance should be rigidly denied him. He should be taught that the laws of Nature had doomed him and his family to starve: that he had no claim on society for the smallest portion of food; that if he and his family were saved from suffering the utmost extremities of hunger, he would owe it to the pity of some kind benefactor, to whom he ought to be bound by the strongest ties of gratitude.

Is not this enough to fill the labouring classes with indignation and rage? But now let us hear Dr. Hall’s able answer:—

“The treatment of this labouring man, I cannot help saying, appears to me not only inhuman, to the last degree, but unjust and iniquitous. I will ask, why is he thus treated? Because, it will be answered, he does not produce by his labour sufficient to maintain his family. But, I say he produces six or eight times as much as his family requires, but which is taken from him by those who produce nothing. What he is entitled to is, all that his hands have made or produced, the whole fruits of his labour, not that pittance his wages enable him to purchase. That he has produced what I assert, is literally true if he is an husbandman; and if he is an artificer, the labour which he applies in his trade, would, if it was suffered to be employed on the land, do the same. It is not true that he has doomed himself, or that Nature has doomed him and his family to starve; Edition: current; Page: [87] that cruel doom is brought on by the rich. If any are to be treated in this cruel manner, it is those who have been rich, and who have never produced any part of all they have consumed. But none ought to receive such hard usage. The poor labourer is to receive no assistance from others, because, it will be said, it will be a burthen on the rich. I say, he is no burthen on the rich; and that, instead of receiving any thing from them, he gives them seven parts out of eight of what he produces. He is under no ties of gratitude to them; and if he had sensations of an opposite kind, it might hardly be wondered at. Are the bees who produce the honey under obligation to the drones for eating it? Are the bees a burden to the drones, and not the drones to the bees? But who are the poor men that are to wait before they marry, and to what time are they to wait? I answer, that not this or that individual, but none of the labourers, or any of the common mechanics, can rear a family without the greater part of them perishing for want, even with the interest of all the money they can possibly have saved during the time they are single. Are they, therefore, never to marry? Are not those rather to remain single, who do nothing to support themselves or the children they may have? And for whose benefit are the poor to remain single, to be abstemious and continent? For those, I say, who wallow in waste and luxury, sensuality and lust. No restraint can be justly imposed on any, unless they receive all the advantages that may be derived from it.”

Let those, therefore, ponder well, who have this scheme in their heads. But it is curious that a clergyman of the Church of England should have been the father of this doctrine. That Church quarrelled with the Church of Rome, in part, and, perhaps, principally, because the Church of Rome does not permit her clergy to marry! And, though Mr. Malthus may have forgotten it, one of the Articles of the Religion of the Church of England, and in which Articles Mr. Malthus has, of course, sworn that he believes, reprobates the doctrine of abstaining from marriage, as being hostile to the Word of God. The same Article says, that it is “lawful for all Christian men to marry at their own discretion.” At the solemnization of matrimony, the Church prays thus: “O, merciful Lord and Heavenly Father, by whose gracious gift mankind is increased; we beseech thee assist with thy blessing these two persons, that they may both be fruitful in procreation of children, and also live together so long in godly love and honesty that they may see their children christianly and virtuously brought up to thy praise and honour, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And at the churching of women, these words are uttered: “Lo, children and the fruit of the womb, are an heritage and gift that cometh of the Lord.—Like as the arrows in the hand of the giant: even so are the young children.—Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

For what, then, are the labouring classes in this kingdom to be shut out of this state of life? Why are they not to have children? Why are they not to possess this “heritage?” Why are they to be deprived of sharing of these gifts and these blessings?—Why, in short, are they to be considered as brutes; as live stock upon a farm?

But, if this clergyman of the Church and his abettors thought it necessary to check the increase of the labouring people’s children, how came they to overlook the increase of the children of the clergy themselves? Will they say, that the poor clergy do not receive parish relief? The clergy altogether receive, according to Mr. Arthur Young’s calculation, more than five millions of pounds a year in England and Wales only, and there is about fifteen thousand of them in England and Wales, while there are millions of labouring people. But, this is Edition: current; Page: [88] not all; for, while the clergy of the Church receive this immense sum annually, and while some of the bishops have more than twenty thousand pounds a year each, and many of the other clergy two large livings each, there have been granted, for some years past, a hundred thousand pounds a year to assist in the maintenance of the poor clergy of the Church of England. This is a mere gift out of the taxes, a large part of which taxes are paid by the labouring classes; and, what insolence as well as what cruelty and injustice is it, then, to propose to prevent the labouring classes from marrying, lest they should become chargeable to the parish, while these poor clergy who marry and have children without any attempt at hindrance, are actually chargeable, and actually receive relief, out of those very taxes, a large part of which come out of the wages of the journeyman and labourers? Let Mr. Malthus answer this question if he can.

And now, George, in conclusion, let me first observe, that you and your sons (to say nothing of your dependents), receive a very large sum of the public taxes or loans annually, and put this sum into your private pockets. The receipt of four thousand three hundred and twenty-four pounds a year by yourself as Treasurer of the Navy is a salary, and this is within two thousand of the sum paid to the President or chief ruler of the United States of America, though that nation is nearly as populous as Great Britain, and though she has nearly as much trade and commerce, and is much more difficult to defend than this nation, and more difficult to govern than this nation might be. Next, you have a sinecure, which you have secured for your son, George Henry Rose, who is (if all remains tight) to enjoy it for his life after your death. This office, agreeably to an account given in by yourself, in 1810, yielded you, upon an average, 4,946l. a year, though you stated that you did nothing for it. Next you have a sinecure as Keeper of Records in the Exchequer, 400l. a year. Next your son, William Stuart Rose, has a sinecure as Clerk of Exchequer Pleas, 2,137l. a year. Your son, George Henry, is now, I believe, a foreign minister, and once was, as this nation has good reason to remember, a minister from this country to America, where the charges on his account amounted to much more than the President’s salary. You yourself have received in salary more than 4,000l. a year upon an average of the last twenty-six years. We will leave out the ambassador, and then the yearly receipt of you and one son, not including dependents and what we have not in the books, is as follows:

Treasurer of the Navy £4,324 Keeper of Records 400 Clerk of Parliaments 4,946 Clerk of Pleas 2,187 £11,857

Or, in words, eleven thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven pounds a year. This is all paid by the people, and, in great part, by the labouring people; and yet no Mr. Malthus has the impudence to propose the passing of a law to prevent any of your family from marrying!

But, now, let us see what this would amount to if, instead of your Edition: current; Page: [89] having received it, it had been put into a saving-bank for the people. Your salary has been more than 4,000l. a year for twenty-six years.

The salary, at 4000l. a year £104,000 The Clerkship of the Parliaments you have had 28 years, at 4,646l. a year 138,488 Keeper of Records, 45 years, at 400l. a year 18,000 Clerk of Pleas (I guess) about 20 years, at 2,187l. 43,740 £304,228

We leave out the ambassador, and also all that you have received for bags and wax! This last, without including your salary before you were Secretary of the Treasury, would make a nice little sum. I cannot find the date when your son, William Stuart Rose, got his sinecure place of 2,187l. a year, but, I find him in a report dated more than eight years ago, and I take it at a guess at twenty years. At any rate, there are a good round three hundred thousand pounds in PRINCIPAL MONEY. I have not time to calculate the compound interest of it; but if principal and interest should fall a little short of half a million of pounds, you will confess, at any rate, that this money, if it had remained amongst the people, might have formed a very nice saving-bank!

Now, George, begging some parson in your neighbourhood to send me an exact computation of the compound interest on your receipts, and giving the Romsey Jackson full liberty to put this letter, particularly the last part of it, into print, and to circulate it freely amongst your voters and slaves of Southampton, Christ Church, and Lymington, I remain with such feelings as a man like me ought to entertain towards a man like you,



On the Birth-right of Petition.—On the Gagging Measures proposed by the Sons of Corruption.—On the great Falling-off in the Taxes.—On the probable Fate of the Fundholders.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
9th January, 1817
Men of Bristol,

You, I mean, who, for many years past have so bravely resisted the combined threats and delusions of the two factions, which have so long been a curse to this country, and have made us almost ashamed to be Englishmen, a name which has always heretofore been the proudest of Edition: current; Page: [90] titles and distinctions. It is to you whom I address myself, and not to those poltroons, who crouch, like beaten spaniels, at every symptom of corruption’s displeasure.

It is now about five years since you stood forward so boldly in the cause of Parliamentary Reform. At that time, corruption had felt no check; she was at the height of her flight; her conceit and insolence were extreme; to open one’s lips against her seemed to be as useless as it was dangerous. Yet, did you, even at that time, make your voices heard; you protested against the continuance of the war, when there appeared no other object in view than that of restoring the House of Bourbon and all the other despotisms of Europe; you declared your conviction, that ruin and misery would be brought upon your country; you exposed the arts which had been made use of to deceive you; in short, you carried on a contest worthy of freemen, and of freemen, too, breathing an air rendered pestiferous by the breath of slavery.

All your assertions have now been verified; all your apprehensions have now been proved to have been well-founded. Those assertions which your enemies then called false and seditious, they now put forth themselves as acknowledged and notorious truths. Yet, they have not learned to be just towards you. They appear to have derived no profit from the past. And, though these dreadful calamities, which you foretold in 1812, have actually come upon us; though your enemies acknowledge that they are come upon us, so far are they from confessing their former errors, that they seem, more than ever, resolved to be the persecutors and slanderers of those who warned them of the danger, and who called upon them to prevent it.

My good friends of Bristol, the circumstances attending your recent meeting on Brandon Hill, have excited a great deal of attention, as they exhibit a striking instance of the conduct of the magistrates to public meetings. You had, in a very respectable number, signed a requisition to your Mayor, to be pleased to call a meeting, in order to take into consideration the propriety of presenting a petition to Parliament for the abolition of sinecures and unmerited pensions, for a reduction of the standing army, and for a constitutional reform of the Commons’ House of Parliament. To this requisition the Mayor gave a refusal; and, instead of calling a meeting of peaceable citizens to deliberate on their rights and to send up their petitions in this time of dreadful distress, his worship thought proper to call a meeting of a very different sort; namely, of troops of all descriptions, and from all parts of the country!

Now, let us take a full view of this transaction. You will observe that the right of petition is, in fact, our only safeguard against being as much slaves as the negroes are; for if men are not permitted to make their sufferings and their injuries known to those who possess the power to see them righted, the rich and powerful may knock out the brains of the poor with impunity. Suppose a rich man were to murder his labourer, and suppose that no officer of justice would do his duty towards punishing such offender. What redress is there for the widow and children of the murdered man? Why a petition to king, or Parliament, or both, makes the matter known to those who have the power to redress, and proceedings are adopted accordingly. Having endeavoured to prevent the people’s petitioning was one of the crimes which drove the House of Stuart from the throne of this kingdom. For, as all the world knows, this present family is not the family who are entitled to the throne by Edition: current; Page: [91] regular hereditary right. They have a much better title to it; that is to say, an Act of Parliament, which appointed them to reign instead of the Stuarts, who had behaved in so tyrannical a manner, that our forefathers very wisely set them aside for ever, and put up this family in their stead. The tyrant, James the Second, who was the last of the Stuarts, endeavoured to gag the people of England, in the same way that the sons of corruption are now recommending that we should be gagged. And in that memorable statute, called the Bill of Rights, it is expressly declared, that one of the crimes, for which he and his family were to forfeit the crown, was, the obstructing of petitions. The same bill declares, that the right of presenting petitions to the king or either House of Parliament, is an inherent right, a part of the birth-right of every Englishman.

The Mayor of Bristol, was not, that I know of, bound to call a meeting upon your requisition: but, I am very sure, that you had a right to meet, at any time or place, or in any manner that you chose; and, I am very certain also that all those persons acted unlawfully, who, by any means whatever, endeavoured to prevent you from meeting, whether by an open display of force, or by written or verbal threats. All those persons who published bills threatening to punish, by turning off, &c. the men who attended the meeting, have been guilty of a conspiracy to obstruct petitioning: and, therefore, I would very urgently recommend to you to obtain proof, I mean legal proof, of their having published such handbills. At any rate, get all the bills, and keep them safe; and, I would advise you, also, to take minutes in writing, and to be ready with evidence to prove, on oath, the fact of posting of troops round, or near, your place of meeting. With this evidence ready, a petition to Parliament against these proceedings may be strenuously maintained; and, we shall see, then, what the right of petition really is; we shall see what the birth-right is really worth; we shall see, at once, what we have to trust to, in future; we shall see, whether the right of praying be, at last, to be denied us.

But, in the meanwhile, what a sight did Bristol exhibit on that day; on the memorable 26th of December. The people in the deepest state of misery, beg their chief magistrate to preside over them, while they agree upon a petition to the Parliament; and their chief magistrate chooses rather to surround himself, and fill the city with troops! Upon what ground were those troops called in?—There had been no riot. There had been no indication of an intention to riot. In every part of the kingdom had numerous meetings been held, and in no one instance had there been any riot, either before or after the meeting; for, as to the contemptible thing in London, it arose out of the assemblage in the Old Bailey, which had been drawn together by the hanging of four men that same morning, and from which spot the rioters, chiefly starving sailors, went almost directly to the gunsmith’s shop. The meeting of petitioners, in Spa-fields, had no more to do with the sailors’ riot than you had. The meeting was not even interrupted by that riot. It was perfectly tranquil, went through its business, and dispersed without a single breach of the peace. But, this sham plot has now been completely exposed. Mr. Preston, whom the base proprietors of the Courier and the Times newspapers represented as having “confessed” himself concerned in an insurrection, conspiracy and plot,” is out upon bail, though they asserted, that he had confessed his guilt as a traitor! The elder Mr. Watson, whom these same bloody men had asserted to have been Edition: current; Page: [92] proved to have participated in the robbery of the gunsmith’s shop, is committed for trial; but, for what? Why, for endeavouring, it is alleged, to hurt or maim, a patrole who seizes hold of him in the dark, out in some fields near London! Thus, all is blown to air, as I said it would in my Register, No. 24, vol. 31. Thus, the charge against this unfortunate gentleman also was wholly false. And yet, it is the Courier and the Times who cry out against the licentiousness of the press. We shall see whether the law-officers of the Crown will stretch forth the arm of protection for Messrs. Preston and Watson, whose lives these bloody men have so directly and so audaciously aimed at. The columns of these papers will prove, that the proprietors have endeavoured, by the means of falsehoods, which they must have invented to take away the lives of these gentlemen: and, is there no punishment for them? Are they to do these things with impunity?

Thus, then, it has been proved, not only, that there was no rioting on the part of the petitioners in London, but, that they, under the guidance of the very same gentleman, who took the lead at your meeting, remained quiet at their post, while riot was going on in the City. What ground was there, therefore, for the military preparations on the part of the Mayor of Bristol? And, what ground was there for swearing-in 2000 special constables? There have been held meetings at which petitions have been signed for a reform of Parliament, by more, I believe, than half a million of men! And, at no one of these meetings has any riot taken place. Nay, rioting has ceased as meetings for Reform have increased. At Dundee and in the Isle of Ely and in Suffolk and at Birmingham, where there have been riots, there have been NO meetings for petitioning. In short, meetings for petitioning have put an end to rioting. And, this is very natural; because, when meetings are held, and the people’s attention is drawn towards the real causes of their misery, they at once see, that the remedy is not a riotous attack upon the property of their neighbours; and they wait with patience and fortitude to hear what answer the Parliament will give to their petitions.

It seems to me, therefore, very wonderful, that those who have property, and who do not share in the taxes, should not be eager to promote meetings to petition; but the conduct of some of your rich neighbours has more than folly in it; it is deeply tinged with tyranny. I allude to the threats which they published against all those of their workmen who should attend the meeting on Brandon-hill, and which threats ought never to be forgotten by you. But this hatred to the cause of public liberty is, I am sorry to say it, but too common amongst merchants, great manufacturers, and great farmers; especially those who have risen suddenly from the dunghill to a chariot. If we look a little more closely into the influence of riches, in such a state of things as this, we shall be less surprised at this apparently unnatural feeling in men who were, but the other day, merely journeymen and labourers themselves. As soon as a foolish and unfeeling man gets rich, he becomes desirous of making the world believe, that he never was poor. He knows that he has neither birth nor education to recommend him to the respect of those who have been less fortunate than himself. Though they pull their hats off to him, he always suspects that they are looking back to his mean origin; and instead of adopting that kindness towards them, and that affability which would make them cheerfully acknowledge his superiority, he endeavours, by a distant and rigid deportment, to extort from their fears Edition: current; Page: [93] that which he wants the sense to obtain from their love. So, that, at last, he verifies the old maxim: “Set a beggar on horseback, and he’ll ride to the Devil.

This is the very worst species of aristocracy. It has all the pride and none of the liberal sentiments of the nobility and great gentry; and, the farming and manufacturing aristocracy is worse, a great deal, than the mercantile, because the latter must have more knowledge of the world, which is a great corrector of insolent and stupid pride. As to the farmers, who have grown into riches all of a sudden, they are the most cruel and hardened of all mankind. There are many of them, who really look upon their labourers as so many brutes; and though they can scarcely spell their own names or pronounce the commonest words in an intelligible manner, they give themselves airs, which no gentleman ever thought of. I have heard sentiments from men of this description, which would not have disgraced the lips of negro-drivers, or of a Dey of Algiers. Such men are always seeking to cause their origin to be forgotten. They would with their hands pull down their superiors and with their feet trample down their inferiors; but, as they are frequently tenants, and as their meanness is equal to their upstart pride, as they are afflicted with

  • “Meanness that soars, and pride that licks the dust,”

their chief aim is to trample into the very ground all who are beneath them in pecuniary circumstances, in order that they may have as few equals as possible, and that there may be as wide a distance as possible beteen them and their labourers.

Such men are naturally enemies to any Reform that would restore the great mass of the people to liberty and happiness; and so blinded are they by these their base passions, that they almost prefer being ruined themselves, to seeing their labourers enjoy their rights. Of the same materials a great part of the master manufacturers appear to be composed; for, in almost every instance, they have declined to condescend to co-operate with the people at large. They will, however, soon see, that their hopes of maintaining their monopoly of happiness and plenty are delusive. They and the upstart farmers have only begun to taste the fruit of the system, which they have so long assisted to support. The axe is, indeed, laid to the root of their riches: but, as yet, the trunk and branches hardly feel the effects of its blows. They will find, when, perhaps, it may be too late, that prosperous farmers and master manufacturers cannot exist without happy journeymen and labourers; and they will also find, that the measures, which are necessary to preserve their property, are those and those only which will insure to the people at large the enjoyment of all their constitutional rights.

This race of men seem alarmed at the idea of their labourers and journeymen having votes at elections as well as they! And why not? Are not those journeymen and labourers as heavily taxed? Have they not wives and families? Have they not liberty and life to preserve? The upstart, big-bellied, swell-headed farmer can bluster and bully (out of his landlord’s hearing) enough about sinecures and pensions. He can swear and rave on this score like a madman. He can rail against the taxes which he has to pay, and against the tithes too he can curse like a Cossack or Pandour. But bid him come to a meeting, or put his hand to a petition, and you soon see what a wretched selfish thing he is. He would gladly enough see the people push forward to obtain a repeal of taxes, and to ease him of the weight of sinecures and pensions; but a reform, which would give to this Edition: current; Page: [94] same people rights equal to himself, he does not understand; he “does not see what good it would do;” though if selfishness had not wholly blinded him, he would see that no good can possibly be done without it.

You, my good friends of Bristol, who have upon the late occasion, experienced so much annoyance from this description of men, or at least, from men resembling them in point of motives and character, should not fail to bear in mind who the individuals have been; that is to say, you should keep safe all the threatening handbills which they published to obstruct you in the exercise of your invaluable right of petition. For, be you well assured, that the ensuing session of Parliament will never pass over without something being done to call the conduct of these persons in question. What would have been said of any of you, who should have put up bills, threatening to set fire to the warehouses and dwellings of the merchants, if they called in troops, or did any other thing, to prevent you from meeting to petition? Yet, would this have been more unlawful, or more cruel, than for them to threaten you with starvation, if you persisted in meeting to petition? To have issued such incendiary threats would, indeed, have been criminal in a high degree, and would have merited severe punishment, because no man has a right to put another man in fear for his life or his property, and I would much sooner forgive a man who should rob me on the highway, or who should steal my sheep or my horses, than a man, who should threaten to destroy my house or goods by fire. What, then, ought to be my feelings towards a man, who, without any provocation, without any offence against him, without any attempt to injure him in any way whatever, and merely because I proposed to exercise my own undoubted right, were to threaten to deprive me of house and home and even of bread for myself and my family? What ought to be my feelings against such a man? I leave you to judge. And, when you have decided, you will want no one to tell you what feelings you ought to entertain towards those cruel and insolent men, who have published, or uttered, in any way whatever, threats against you upon the late memorable occasion.

Quitting, now, the particular scene before us, I beg leave to call your attention, and also the attention of all who love their country and its liberties and its peace, to the endeavours, which corruption’s press is making use of, in order to pave the way, if possible, for the enactment of GAGGING BILLS. Observe, that I am in no fear that these endeavours will succeed, and that I am convinced, that more than one-half of us must be actually killed, before such a project could be put in force. But, the endeavours, to produce this state of slavery, or this scene of civil war and bloodshed, it is my duty to notice betimes, and to warn my country against their pernicious and diabolical authors.

You must have observed, indeed every man with his eyes open must be well convinced, that it is the hope of a Reform which has hitherto kept the country in a state of tranquillity under its unparalleled sufferings.—This hope has been excited by public meetings and more especially by publications, and amongst these publications, mine certainly may claim a distinguished place. Now this being the case, manifestly and notoriously the case, in the usual course of things it would have followed, that the writers who profess to be friendly to the Government, would have applauded my labours, seeing that the tendency and the real effect of them is to preserve the public tranquillity; to prevent those crimes which the Judges so severely reprobate, and which they punish very frequently by Edition: current; Page: [95] a sentence of death, as was the case a little while ago in Cambridgeshire and in one or two other counties, and as is, indeed, generally the case when any serious riot occurs.

But, the Courier, the Times, the Sun, the Post, and some others of corruption’s sons have discovered an uncommon degree of uneasiness at this tranquillizing work. They have been disappointed. They wanted riots, bloodshed, and hangings and quarterings. These were things which they wanted to see going on; and then, they supposed, that the subject of Reform would be lost sight of now, as it was amidst the noise of the riots in London, in 1780, when the late Duke of Richmond actually had brought in a Bill for Annual Parliaments.

Thus disappointed by the good sense, the information, the moderation, and real public spirit of the people, the sons of corruption have become almost frantic. There is another latent reason, which I will mention by-and-by; but it is impossible not to see the fact, for it stares us in the face in all their pages. They began more than two months ago. Even then the Courier said, that the public, ought to watch that peacable doctrine that was preached up with so much malignity! Did you ever before hear of peaceable malignity! The writer, who is a wicked old hack, said, that all this calling upon the “rabble to be peaceable, was a proof of some deep design against the Constitution.” The design was indeed somewhat deep, for it aimed at a Radical Reform of all grievances, and a digging and rooting up of all corruptions.

After some time, however, these corrupt men, whose papers are read by the fools and knaves of the nation, could no longer refrain from a direct attack on the Register, which they asserted, would, if not put a stop to, SOMEHOW OR OTHER, overthrow the Constitution, and, as they always mean corruption, when they make use of the word Constitution, their opinion was, I would fain hope, perfectly correct; and I verily do believe, that my little book and corruption cannot live in the same country for any great length of time; and, as I am very sure, that the liberty of the press must be wholly and openly annihilated, before the Register can be put a stop to, I am not at all afraid to predict, that, in a very short time, corruption will be overthrown to the great benefit of King and Parliament and people.

But, now, let us hear what these men really say upon the subject. The proprietor of the Courier, on the 2nd instant, has these words:—

We have received from several parts of the country complaints of the mischief done in many places, attempting in all, by these cheap twopenny-trash publications. They are addressed to all the bad passions, they inculcate the worst feelings,—hatred of Government, want of respect for public authorities, disobedience and disaffection. But Parliamentary Reform is their pretext, and the pretext of the meetings which they provoke. But no one can be deceived as to their real object—the destruction of the Constitution. What the OFFICERS OF THE CROWN ARE DOING, OR INTEND TO DO, OR WHETHER THEY DO NOT INTEND TO DO ANYTHING, we know not. But we are quite sure that if something be not done, and quickly too, the evil, we will not say will become incurable, but at least, it will be very, very difficult of cure indeed! Strange and sorrowful contemplation it is to see the Constitution, to which we have owed our safe conduct through the great struggle, which has been the source of our security and our greatness, treated with scorn, contumely, and ingratitude.”

In his paper of the next day he complains, that public meetings, “divert the time and attention of the civil and military authorities from their private concerns and public duties, and compel them to exercise Edition: current; Page: [96] that care and wealth in restraining the turbulent and guarding the public peace, which ought to be directed to relieving the distressed and rewarding the industrious.” And then he suggests the propriety of dispersing, or preventing such meetings by force of arms. “It is,” says he, “therefore a question that the peaceable inhabitants of all parts are deeply interested in asking, whether the Constitution does or does not invest the civil magistrate with authority to check meetings, which, be their avowed object what it may, prove themselves by the language and sentiments of the speakers, as well as their actual effect on the multitude, to tend to nothing but disorder and vice, as an immediate consequence, and ultimately to sedition and rebellion?”

Now, my friends of Bristol, bear in mind, that the man who has the impudence to publish this; the man who thus insults us, was, not many years ago, a journeyman tailor. His name is Stuart, or Stewart, and, from the shop-board corruption has given him a hoist into a chariot. There is a man, who writes for Stuart, whose name is Street; and, as the times are now growing serious, this man and his employer too must soon be dragged out before the public. No man ought to be suffered, in these times, to throw his poison from behind a curtain. Let the nation know who are the hatchers of plots and the proposers of Gagging Bills. Let those who live by corruption, come forth and own her openly for their patroness. Let them write what they will; but, let them be known to the people as I am and as I always have been.

The alarms of these corrupt men are by no means groundless; for the wounds that corruption is now receiving will never be cured. It is too late even now, for those great doctors “THE LAW-OFFICERS,” if they were so disposed, to come to her aid. She may reel along a little while; but she is much about in the state of a wolf, to which the hunter has given the mortal blow, and which is dragging his dying carcass into a thicket. This base writer, who has, within these six weeks, been guilty of every crime that a man can commit with a pen, finding himself exposed, and, indeed, finding his paper falling off in sale, is eager to set the law-officers to work in order to put a stop to the cause of his disgrace and decline. He does not know, he says, “what the law-officers intend to do, or whether they do or do not, intend to do anything.” And as he seems so full of curiosity upon this head, I will tell him what the law-officers do intend to do. They fully intend to file a criminal information ex-officio against the parties concerned in this little book; but they do not intend to do this, until they see something criminal in it, and we will take special care, that they shall never see that. This prostituted writer seems to think that it is of no consequence, whether we violate the law or not. He seems to think, that there is no more law for any one who espouses the cause of Reform than there is for a mad dog. He seems to look upon the Attorney and Solicitor-General as a brace of bloodhounds, whom he, the impudent varlet, can let loose upon any one, whether there has been a breach of the law or not! I know nothing of the character and disposition of these gentlemen. Hitherto their course has certainly formed a striking contrast with that of their predecessor. But I will bespeak neither their good-will nor their ill-will. I do not know them, and, therefore, I cannot love them; and they may be well assured, that I do not fear them. Every paper that goes from under my hand has a tendency to promote the peace, and to restore the happiness and honour of my country; and, though I by no means desire the trouble Edition: current; Page: [97] of grappling with “Law-officers,” as the Courier calls them; I fear them not, more than I do the Courier himself; though I will not be so rude and so unjust as to appear to suppose, that there can exist any feeling in common between those gentlemen and a reptile like him.

But, this man seems to despair of legal proceedings; for, he has repeatedly said, that he knows not what can be done, but that something must be done to put a stop to this publication. Now I can tell him of one sort of thing. When Cockburn and Ross entered the defenceless city of Washington, and set fire to the Congress House, some of their people went to the printing-office of a Mr. Gale, who had written on the side of his country, and tore down his establishment and scattered his types about the street. This is one way of silencing a press! But, that was in an invaded country, and where there was no law but law-martial; and, we shall not, I hope, see this in England; and, if we were to see it, it would not pay the interest of the Debt. What, then, would the Courier recommend? Nothing short of an Act of Parliament, I dare say! Now, let us suppose him sitting down to frame an act to suit his purpose. I am not supposing, that any minister, nor the underling of any minister, would have the folly or impudence to think of such a thing; but, what may not a man like this be supposed capable of? The following, then, would, I suppose, be the Bill that this son of Corruption would recommend:

A Bill for the better security of Corruption, and for perpetuating the Miseries and Disgrace of the United Kingdom.

Whereas one William Cobbett (an old offender in the same way) has for some years last past, and especially within the last three months, been, by the means of a certain weekly trash publication, endeavouring to undermine, and throw down the Corinthian Pillar of Corruption, and, at the same time, to preserve the peace and restore the happiness of the United Kingdom; And, Whereas these efforts tend directly to do great and lasting injury to all those, who, directly or indirectly, live and fatten upon the profits of Bribery, Corruption, Perjury, and Public Robbery, and threaten more particularly to produce the total ruin and final starvation of the proprietors of the Courier, the Times and others their fellow-labourers in the fruitful vineyard of literary imposture and fraud, including, of course, Jackson of Romsey and Chappell of Pall-Mall; And, Whereas, sad experience has proved, that though there are about twenty thousand Clergymen of the Church of England, the greater part of whom abhor the said William, and though there are as many Tax-gatherers as receive upwards of three millions a year for the collection and management of taxes, and that though there are many hundreds of persons in offices of various sorts, exclusive of about twenty thousand officers of the army and navy, many of whom have now a great deal of leisure, and that though there are some thousands of Sinecurists, Pensioners, and Grantees, and that though there are vast swarms of Lawyers of all ages and sizes, yet, that no one has been found to answer the writings of the said William, notwithstanding Corruption prevades nineteen twentieths of all the Reviews, Magazines and Newspapers in the Kingdom; And, Whereas it is expedient to prevent the said William Cobbett from proceeding in the said dangerous courses, BE IT, THEREFORE, ENACTED, that the Edition: current; Page: [98] said William shall write and publish no more, and that he shall neither talk nor think, nor dream without the express permission of the said proprietors of the Courier and Times or of their supporters and abettors.

Though not in this form, perhaps, yet to this amount, would the wishes of those people go. But, my worthy friends of Bristol, be in no fear; for you may be well assured, that, if any such thing were to be attempted, such an uproar would be raised as never was before heard in this country; because, in such an attempt, every one would see the inevitable and speedy establishment of downright despotism and martial-law, which, as the French saying is, “would leave people of property nothing but their eyes to cry with,” and, would, therefore, put us all upon a level.

Oh, no! The Ministers are not so very foolish as to be urged, thus, into the very gulf of despotism. They know well, that silencing the press would not enable them to pay the interest of the Debt; and, they ought to know, that to silence the press could not possibly produce any other effect, than that desperation, which would, and which must, end in general commotion and desolation. Just the same may be said of this vile incendiary’s endeavours to urge the Mayors and other Magistrates to “check meetings,” that is to say, to prevent them, by the use of military or other force. If these magistrates were to act thus illegally; if they were thus to set the Constitution at open defiance; if they were to say to the people, “though you are starving, you shall not meet to petition; the Bill of Rights was not intended for you; you have no pretensions to the birthright of Englishmen.” If the Magistrates were to act thus, what would be the consequence? Could they flatter themselves, that such measures would be productive of peace? I think they are not so infatuated. The Mayor of Leicester, in refusing to call a Meeting in that town, tells the people, that Meetings “have been held in other places, professing similar objects, and have, ended in riot, sedition, and bloodshed.” I should be glad to know where these meetings have been held? Not in this kingdom, I will take my oath if it be necessary, as far as any intelligence has reached London. The pretended plot in London has been proved to be wholly false; it has been now proved, in the most satisfactory manner, that the Meeting had no connection with the riot; that the riot arose out of a mob who assembled to see four men hanged; that the rioters consisted chiefly of, and had for their leaders, a parcel of starving sailors; that the Meeting carried its business through without a single breach of the peace, and that it ended not in “riot, sedition and bloodshed,” but in the most orderly and quiet dispersion, at the recommendation of Mr. Hunt, who took the lead during the proceedings.

But so far from this assertion of the Mayor of Leicester being true, it is the contrary of the truth; for, as I observed before, where there have been “riot, sedition and bloodshed,” there have been no meetings for Reform. Where is it, that these riots have taken place within the last nine months? Why, in the Isle of Ely, in Wales, a pretended one at Birmingham, in Suffolk, at Dundee. And, at none of those places have there been any Meetings for Reform. Now, what will the Mayor of Leicester answer to this? Does it show his cause to be good who can make such assertions? And, do the enemies of Reform think, that the friends of that measure are to be silenced by such means? While I think of it, let me ask, where are the two members for Leicester? I hope the Edition: current; Page: [99] meeting at that place will not forget to instruct them what to do at the ensuing proposition of the measure to Parliament.

A letter from a gentleman in Glasgow, dated 30th Dec. has the following passage, which may serve as an additional answer to the Mayor of Leicester: “Since I wrote you, there have been Meetings at Airdrie, at Kilbarchan, at Dumbarton, at Carmunnock, at Eaglesham, from all which petitions will be forwarded on the meeting of Parliament. The working people are actually bordering on starvation. A subscription has been set going here for their relief, but from their giving a man only one shilling a week, and if a family, two or three shillings, it has a tendency rather to irritate than to soothe; and, nothing but the hope, that Parliament will listen to our Petitions is keeping the Country quiet.” The same accounts come from all parts of the country; and, there never was so general an expectation, that relief and redress will be obtained by the lawful means of petition. Can the Mayor of Leicester contradict this? He certainly cannot; and, upon what then, does he ground his assertion?

No, my friends of Bristol, the Courier and Times, and their foolish and wicked supporters, may call for Gagging Bills, but no Gagging Bills will be passed. To suspend the Habeas Corpus Act must, in time of peace, be regarded as the establishment of a permanent military despotism; and, if the Government were base and tyrannical enough to wish for this, which I cannot believe; it never could be so foolish; for, what would be the effects? The instant annihilation of all pecuniary confidence; an end to all credit; an end to all contracts; a blowing-up of the funds; a desertion and abandonment of the country by every one who could possibly remove his property or industry to America. These would be some, and amongst the least terrible, of the effects of those measures which the Courier and Times propose, which they are labouring to pave the way for, but which will not, be you well assured, be adopted. It is possible, that there may be a man or two, possessed of some influence, who would drive things to desperation; but, while I can hardly extend my belief thus far, I am quite sure, that such influence, if put forth, would be resisted instantly, seeing, that a military despotism, if it could exist in England, openly avowed, for a year, would cut up all funded property, and, indeed, all other property, as completely as they could be cut up by universal anarchy and confusion; and, that, after all, confusion and bloodshed must overspread the land.

Let us be confident, therefore, that the Parliament, seeing the state, into which the country has been brought, seeing the miseries into which it has been plunged, and seeing that a cordial union of us all is absolutely necessary to our salvation, will, at last, yield to our prayers, and give that Reform which the nation has so long sought, and without which, as dear-bought experience bids us conclude, we never can again see happy and honourable days.

The corrupt press itself acknowledges, that the taxes have fallen off in such a degree as that they will now hardly yield enough to pay the charges on account of the Debt, which requires 44 millions of pounds a year. But, one of my ploughmen shall bet the Courier a hundred pounds, that the whole of the taxes, collected in 1817, do not amount to 35 millions of pounds, unless the value of paper-money be again changed. Now, as the Debt takes 44 millions a year, and the Army, Civil List, &c. have been estimated to take about 26 millions more, how are these to be Edition: current; Page: [100] paid out of 35 millions? Something, then, must take place when the Parliament meets. There must be some change, and that a pretty great change too.

Now, Men of Bristol, I hope you will do me the justice to recollect, that, for eleven years past, I have endeavoured to make the Government see, that ruin would fall upon the country, unless the squandering of money was put a stop to, and, even, in that case, I always contended, that the nation never could continue to pay the interest of the Debt in full. You will please also to recollect, that I have been accused of folly, of wickedness, and almost of robbery for this. To reduce the interest of the Debt was called a breach of national faith, and I was stigmatized as a rogue for supposing such a thing possible, just as if I myself had owed the Debt! Well! Keep all this in mind, if you please, and, at the same time, keep your eye on the acts of the next Session of Parliament, which, as I have before observed, will, I believe, produce events more important than all the Sessions for the last hundred years.

You will observe, that the Fundholders now receive five pounds a year for every hundred pounds of their principal money. If enough money cannot be raised to pay them so much interest, they must have less; or, the estates of the landholders must be seized to be given to the fundholders! Here is a pretty dilemma! Here is a matter quite sufficient, one would think, to engage the attention of all the great men, to whom we pay such handsome salaries. This difficulty, together with the ruin of farming and manufacturing and commerce, are enough to astound the wisest of men; and when to these are added a weight of poor-rates, approaching in amount to that of the whole rent of all the land and all the houses, the spectacle is sufficient to strike terror into the hearts of those who have assumed a responsibility upon the subject.

Having before our eyes, then, a great nation crumbling into a heap of ruins, have we not a right, now that things are come to this horrid pass, to pray to be admitted to choose our representatives? It is very certain, that there must have been a want of wisdom or integrity somewhere; for it can never be wise or just to reduce a nation to ruin and misery. For many, many years, the Reformers have been abused as foolish and wicked men. They were put down by force in 1794. They have had no power. All their petitions and all their writings have been rejected and despised. Therefore, they have had no hand in producing these dreadful calamities. They have suffered in common with all those who have not fed upon the taxes; but they have always been kept from any share in the powers of the Government.

It is very necessary to keep this in mind, because to those who have had the power and the profits ought the responsibility to belong. For, my friends, the word responsibility is not a mere empty sound any more than the words Sinecure, Pension, Salary, Grant, Allowance, Fee, Stipend, Living, &c. All these words have a meaning. They represent a parcel of money received by persons; and why is not responsibility to have a meaning? Old George Rose, for instance, has received, in Salaries alone, more than a hundred thousand pounds. Of course, he will be ready to share in the responsibility. The king can do no wrong; but, his servants may, and it is very certain, that somebody has done wrong to this nation; or, at least, has exposed it to terrible sufferings and dangers.

Since writing the last five or six paragraphs, the actual state of the last year’s taxes has reached my eye. It appears, that there have been collected, Edition: current; Page: [101] last year, in Great Britain, taxes of all sorts (besides poor-rates) to the amount of 57 millions. Now, the Debt required last year, 44 millions and 29 thousand pounds; and as more money was borrowed last year, the Debt this year will require, of course, still more. Here, then, the Debt alone, which required only nine millions a year before those wars which have ended in the restoration of the Bourbons and the Inquisition, now demands 44 millions out of the 57 millions. There are 13 millions left, then, for Civil List, Army and Navy, Secret Services, French Emigrants, Colonial Governments, and a hundred other swallow-holes of public money, and all which together will amount to little short of 30 millions, unless the army be disbanded and the pay of the Staff greatly reduced, and unless all the other heads be greatly reduced.

But, I beg you to observe, that, though 57 millions have been raised in the last twelve months, 57 millions will not be raised in the next twelve months; for mind, there are more than 13 millions which have been raised this last year in Property tax and War-malt-tax, both of which are now done away; so that, even supposing the present year to be as productive in other taxes as the last, the whole collection would amount to only 44 millions, and that would not be sufficient to meet the annual charge on account of the Debt, leaving not one single farthing for army, navy, civil list, and all other expenses.

This is no very consoling prospect for the partizans of the Pitt System. But, very far worse is the real prospect before them; for, it is impossible for the taxes of 1817 to amount to any thing nearly so much as the taxes of 1816, exclusive of the War-malt-tax and the Property-tax. Exclusive of these two, we have seen, that the whole of the taxes amounted for 1816, to 44 millions; but, in order to obtain those taxes how many men of property have been broken up! Distresses, sales of stock, ruin have overspread the country. The taxes have been gotten from these people; but, the man who has been broken up, can pay no more taxes. You have read the story of the boy, who had a goose that had laid him a golden egg every day, and who, eager to become rich all at once, killed the poor goose and ripped her up, expecting to fill his bag with gold; but, who found only one egg come nearly to maturity, and who thus lost the supply of gold for ever after. Thus it is, and thus it must be, my friends, when the tax-gatherer seizes and sells the farmer’s and tradesman’s goods and chattels. The demand is satisfied for this once, but no future demand can ever be made. When I was in America on a visit to a very kind friend in the country, my wife and child took a fancy to some chesnuts which were upon a very fine and very lofty tree; and I happened to express my regret, that the fruit could not be got at: “Oh, yes,” said he, “we will soon get at it.” In less than an hour the tree was levelled with the ground. Upon my protesting against this mode of gathering fruit, my friend observed, that he had more trees of the same sort standing than he had any need of. And, if we had more able farmers and tradesmen than we have need of to pay taxes, to cut down a part of them by Distraint and Exchequer Process would be of no consequence; but, not having enough to pay taxes as it is, what must be the consequence of totally destroying a considerable part of those out of whom even the last year’s taxes have been squeezed! Men, like oranges, when squeezed dry, can be squeezed no more.

Therefore, taxes, sufficient for the present expenditure, never can be collected in future, unless the value of the paper-money be again changed, Edition: current; Page: [102] and, even if that were attempted, the fall of the Pitt System of Finance would not be prevented. The amount of the taxes for 1817 will not, I am convinced, exceed thirty-five millions; and even that is an enormous sum to collect in such a state of national beggary. What, then, is to be done? Are the Army, the Navy, the Civil List, to go unpaid? Or, are the Fundholders to go unpaid? These are very serious questions. Many years ago I said it must come to this; and to this it is now come. For, as to loans to pay the interest of a Debt, I leave you to imagine how dreadfully and how speedily that course must end! It has been proposed to lower the interest of the Debt; that is to say, to take from the Fundholders, a part of what they receive, which, with some few exceptions, would be very just. But, alas! this will not do any good at all, unless the Army, Civil List, &c. be reduced from thirty to about five millions a-year; and, even in this latter case, the Fundholders must have their interest reduced one-half at least.

Now, it will be right for the country to bear in mind, that the Reformers have always protested against the system, which has brought the country into this perilous state. Hundreds of thousands of families, very worthy, industrious, and most excellent people, now stand tottering on the very verge of utter ruin. Many of these persons have been long deluded into a belief, that we, who opposed this ruinous system, were their and our country’s enemies. They will now see and feel, that we were their friends; and that, if they have been plunged into ruin, the fault has, in some degree, been their own. But they were deluded. A base and corrupt press deceived them. Let them now join us, then, as the only means of saving a remnant of what they wish to enjoy.

In the years 1810 and 1811, the Paper-system, which, with taxation, have been the causes of all our miseries, was under discussion in Parliament. The OUT party proposed to pass a law to compel the Bank to pay in gold at the end of two years. The IN party said that such a law was unnecessary then; but, agreed, that gold would be paid when peace came. While those discussions were going on, I wrote and published a Series of Letters, under the title of Paper against Gold. In that work, Letter XV. (which work is now re-published) I stated, that, if an attempt was made to pay in gold, all the people in trade must be ruined; or, that the interest of the Debt must be lowered, or go unpaid altogether. Such an attempt has been made; and the ruin has come. Amongst the whole of the Members of the two Houses, there was, upon that occasion, only Sir Francis Burdett, who appeared to understand any thing of the matter. He said, that it would be utterly impossible to pay the interest of the Debt, if the paper were raised in value.

But, when all men are beginning to talk about lowering the interest of the Debt, will nobody propose to lower the Sinecures, Pensions, and Salaries? I know, that the nation will be unable to pay the interest of the Debt in full; but, I also know, that if the Fundholder cannot be paid, the Sinecurist and Grantee ought not to be paid. A vast deal of money has been swallowed up in this way; and surely it ought not to be overlooked, while so many are proposing to lower the interest of the Debt! No: this will not be overlooked; it must become a matter of serious discussion.

But, after all, what hope is there, that any effectual and permanent relief will take place, except through the means of a Reform in the Parliament, that measure so strongly recommended by so many eminent Edition: current; Page: [103] men for so many years past? I do not say, that even a Reformed Parliament would be able to prevent the Fundholder from experiencing a great loss. I do not say, that it would be able, all at once, to make the nation prosperous, which has now been plunged into such a depth of misery. I do not say, that it could work this miracle; but, I have no scruple to express my decided opinion that it would, in a very short time, do complete justice to all claimants; that it would, all at once, produce great relief to the distressed of all ranks; and that, in a very few years, it would leave scarcely a single pauper in each parish throughout the kingdom, by putting it in the power of all honest and industrious people amply to provide for themselves and their families. This is my sincere belief. In the Political Register, No. 15 of Vol. 31, I have, as I think, proved that a Reformed Parliament would be able to do this; and, therefore, I do most anxiously hope that there will be wanted, on the part of the people in general, no effort that can, in any way, tend to promote this great and important object.

Petition, peaceable petition, is the course. No number of men, in any situation of life, are too few to sign a petition. There have been, I believe, more than half a million of names signed to such petitions. These may become a million, and that would be two-thirds of the able male population of Great Britain, excluding those who live on the taxes. I am disposed to believe, that the Parliament, when it finds that this is really the case, will not much wish to oppose the desire of the people. At any rate it is the duty of those who wish for a Reform to be vigilant, to be active, to support, by all legal means, those who are willing to take the lead in the work, and, above all things, to be ever watchful to defeat the purposes of those, who wish to see the nation plunged into anarchy and bloodshed, of which all the friends of Reform abhor the idea. Let it, too, never be forgotten, that those whose property is now placed in jeopardy, have not the Reformers to blame for it. They have had no hand in any of the measures, which have led to this dreadful state of things; on the contrary, they have always disapproved of those measures; and, as for my own part, no small portion of the last eleven years of my life, have been employed in endeavouring to make my countrymen see the gulf which was opening before them, and into which gulf they have now actually been plunged.

Wishing you patience and fortitude to bear up against your present sufferings, and, in the hope, that better days for us all are at hand, I remain, what I have always been,

Your friend,
Edition: current; Page: [104]


On the Brunswick Knights.—Lord Sidmouth’s Letter to them.—“Glorious Revolution.”—It is not true, that our Old Forefathers were ragged and starving Beggars.—Schemes of mock-Reform.—Meeting of Deputies in London.—Hatton-Garden Work.

  • Stewart and Walter, make haste I implore ye,
  • Or the Dogs and the Cats will be Knighted before ye.”
  • Parody on Peter Pindar.

Note by the Editors.—We are now come to what may be called the dismal date of 1817; dismal, both as respects the arbitrary acts of the Government, and the wretched condition of the labouring people. At this period, the Register contained a series of Addresses, following up that to “Old George Rose,” which we have just inserted. These Addresses were entitled as follows:—To the Men of Norwich, to theWeaver Boysof Lancashire, to Lord Sidmouth, to the Life-and-Fortune Men, to the People of Hampshire, to Earl Grosvenor, to all True-hearted Englishmen, to the Good and True Men of Hampshire, a Letter to theDeluded People,to the Paper-money Men, Mr. Cobbett’s Taking Leave of his Countrymen. This last, the Leave-taking Address, was written upon Mr. Cobbett’s going to America, immediately after the suspension of the Habeas Corpus.—We select the most material passages of these Addresses. The reader will find them replete with that kind of matter which was calculated to stir the Government up to the desperate measures which were finally adopted, at this period, for the purpose of putting down the Reformers.—That the Register very much helped to drive the Government to these desperate acts, may be seen, not merely in the strong writing itself of Mr. Cobbett, and the necessity of its effect upon his readers; but also in some declarations, made by the Government party themselves, some of which will be found embodied in the extracts we are about to insert, and quoted by Mr. Cobbett, from week, to week as they came forth.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
January 16, 1817
Men of Norwich,

It is now about a month since I was first informed, that, at Norwich, an Order of Knighthood had been established, the object of which was to embody the gallant sons of Corruption to fight under her banners against all Reformers generally, but more especially against William Cobbett’s Register, which they honour with particular marks of their hatred. This is the foundation of their Order; and amongst the means, by which their object is to be prosecuted, is, an intended publication, to be entitled: “The Brunswick Weekly Political Register, in direct opposition to William Cobbett’s Work.” On the 26th of December, the “Installation” took place, at the Rampant Horse Inn, Norwich, when an “Ode” that is to say, some stupid stuff, which they would call poetry, was, it seems, pronounced, which Ode was, as they state, “Written by one of the Knights.

There is something so very contemptibly ridiculous in all this; it is so Edition: current; Page: [105] much below childishness; it is so degrading to human intellect; that I could not, though pressed to it by some worthy friends in Norfolk, consent to notice it in print, feeling that it would be like the using of a sabre against a fly or a maggot. But, things, which may be wholly beneath notice in themselves, may be forced upon one’s attention by their being associated with things of real importance, as the garter once dropped at a ball from the knee of a favourite of one of our kings has become the ensign of an honour which the greatest of statesmen have been proud of. And, though a very different fate certainly awaits the Order of Brunswick, still that Order having now been associated in print with the name, officially given, of the Secretary of State, this circumstance has rendered the whole thing of sufficient importance to be laid before the public, especially as some very essential political principles have, in this form, challenged discussion.

The Knights have, it appears, transmitted an account of their establishment and of their installation and principles to Lord Viscount Sidmouth, and, of this transmission and of his Lordship’s determination thereon, they have published the following account, printed by one Ball, of Norwich, in the following words:—

“Published by order of Knights Members of the Brunswick Club, at a Special General Meeting, held at the Rampant Horse Inn, Norwich, Dec. 31st, 1816. Copy of a Letter addressed to ‘Arnall Thomas Fayerman, Esq., Surgeon, Norwich;’ President of the Brunswick Association, from J. Beckett, Esq., Under Secretary of State, in reply to a Letter transmitted to Lord Viscount Sidmouth, enclosing six copies of the second edition of the Declaration of the sentiments of this Assemblage.

J. Beckett
Beckett, J.
Dec. 30, 1816

I am directed by Lord Sidmouth, to acknowledge the receipt of your Letter of the 26th inst. and to express the satisfaction afforded him by the Public Spirit, and Constitutional Principles which have led to the establishment of the Brunswick Club in the City of Norwich; I am at the same time to add, that Lord Sidmouth’s opinion is in general unfavourable to Political Clubs of any description; although there may undoubtedly be circumstances under which such Institutions may not only be justifiable but highly useful; whether or not this is the case of Norwich at this time, it is impossible for him to judge, but his Lordship cannot hesitate to applaud the principles of your Association and the motives which have occasioned it.

I am, Sir, your most obedient and humble Servant,
William Rackham
Rackham, William
Arnall Thomas Fayerman
Fayerman, Arnall Thomas
To Arnall Thomas Fayerman, Esq.,
Surgeon, Norwich.

Upon the receipt of this Letter, the Knights came to the following resolution:—“Resolved unanimously,—That the respectful thanks of this Association be transmitted to Lord Viscount Sidmouth, his Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Home Department, evincing at the same time our grateful feelings for the very handsome approval of our views and principles which he has been pleased to express, through the means of an Official Letter from J. Beckett, Esq., addressed to the President; and that all the Knights Members be required to sign the said Letter of thanks. By Order of the Association.


Now, my friends of Norwich, where Reformers have met with the Mayor of your City at their head, and where that Mayor stands so honourably distinguished from those, who, instead of complying with the reasonable requisitions of their townsmen, have called meetings of special constables and of troops; my friends of that ancient and always patriotic city, let us now, for a moment, forget the despicable and ridiculous character of these self-created Knights, and even while we are commenting on those principles and motives, which Lord Sidmouth is here said to have Edition: current; Page: [106] approved of, let us not take it for granted, that his Lordship has not been taken unaware upon this occasion; and let us, at any rate, by no means imbibe any disrespect towards the name of Brunswick, the use of which has here, as upon so many former occasions, been dishonoured by those, who, under that name, have endeavoured to find shelter from that contempt or indignation which belonged only to their own folly or infamy.

You all remember, that, when the exposures, relative to the Duke of York and Mrs. Clarke took place, the friends, or rather the pretended friends, of the Duke, instead of candidly acknowledging, that the facts, which could not be refuted, were true; and as sensible men would have done, appealing to the generosity of the nation, by observing, that boundless patronage happening to fall under the influence of boundless passion, the temptation had been too great to preserve the Duke from errors, into which many other men, and with no essentially wicked intentions, might have fallen; instead of taking this line, and instead of advising the Duke to throw himself manfully upon the naturally indulgent feelings of the country, which would have caused the whole matter to have been forgotten in a month, the pretended friends and supporters of His Royal Highness met the first opening of the charges against him by outcries and accusations of disloyalty against the author of the charges, and against all those of similar politics, who were accused of hostility to the House of Brunswick, of being Jacobins and Levellers, and they were threatened with everlasting infamy if they failed to make their charges good. Thus accused, thus menaced, a very great majority of the nation took part against these unjust and foolish threateners; general politics became mixed up with the question; discovery after discovery was made, and, at last, the Duke had to bear the whole burden, brought on him not only by his own errors and frailties, but also the much greater burden created by the injustice and insolence of his pretended friends. Many men, who felt disposed, at first, to think but little of the matters charged against him, and were inclined rather to laugh than to censure, had their risible propensity turned into scorn and indignation, when they heard charges of selling commissions by a kept mistress and the promotion of a foot-boy from behind her chair to a command in the army, ascribed to a traitorous design against the House of Brunswick!

This feeling of scorn and indignation was perfectly natural; but, it unfortunately fell upon the wrong object; for, instead of the Duke, it ought to have alighted upon the heads of those who pretended to be his friends, and who, in fact, while they affected to be defending him, were engaged in the defence of their own corrupt actions, as was afterwards most amply proved. Just such is the case now; and, you may be well assured, that, when you hear men bawling so loudly against what they have the impudence to call our disloyal endeavours, they have only in view to retain or to obtain profit to themselves out of the public purse; and, it very unfortunately happens, that they appear to succeed but too well in persuading those whose pretended friends they are, that they are their friends in reality, and that the people who pay the taxes are their foes.

If this be excusable in the Royal Family, who have so small a portion of communication with the people, it is not so easily excused in my Lord Sidmouth, who ought to know a great deal of the real state of the public mind, and who, of course, ought to know, that those who are labouring to bring about a Reform of the Parliament, have not only not intimated, but that they do not entertain, the smallest desire, to trench, in any way Edition: current; Page: [107] whatever, on the rights of either the nobles or the king; and, therefore, it does seem very extraordinary, that his Lordship should have given countenance to, or, that he should have taken the smallest notice of the contemptible Knights of the Order of Brunswick, and still more extraordinary, that he should have expressed his applause of their principles, considering that these, as far as they are divested of downright absurdity, are hostile to all those principles which placed the House of Brunswick upon the throne of England.

It would be a waste of time to endeavour to come at a comprehension of all the parts of that confused mass of nonsense, which the Brunswick Knights transmitted to Lord Sidmouth under the title of a Declaration; but I will just take their leading principle, which will be found in the following passage:—

“Politically speaking, we cannot but view with extreme pain and dread, the active endeavours of violent party men to sow discord and discontent in the minds of the lower orders, by the extensive association of clubs, professing the principles of John Hampden. It should never be forgotten, that whatever injuries, real or supposed, this idol of the people sustained from the Government of Charles I., that no extenuation of the crime of fighting against the King and dying in the field as a traitor can be found in the laws of either God or man; therefore, to mislead the people, by artful and specious praises of his pretended patriotic conduct in resisting, by force of arms, what he considered to be an infringement of his rights and privileges, is to teach the people to tread in his footsteps, and to compel the State (regardless of the dreadful consequences that might result) to an immediate submission to all they demand.

Now, in the first place, there are no such things as Hampden Clubs in the kingdom; or, at least, they are of so trifling amount as hardly to be worthy of notice, if we except a Club of that name in London, and which Club consists in reality of Sir Francis Burdett and Major Cartwright. So that, this is altogether a false pretence; and, as, I dare say if the truth were known, these gallant Knights had money in view, when they appealed to Lord Sidmouth, they are, I think, fairly indictable for an attempt at fraud and to obtain money under false pretences. For what other purpose should these men have applied to Lord Sidmouth? They could hardly expect that he would send troops to their aid; and as to writers against us, they seem to have become extinct, or, at least, so lazy or so dull as no longer to be of any use. What, then, could these Knights apply to Lord Sidmouth for? When writers or loyal club-mongers communicate their schemes to the Government, be assured that they seek money as naturally as a fly does food when it approaches a honey-pot.

It is also a very scandalous falsehood to say, that the Hampden Club, or any of the Reformers, endeavoured to urge the people to compel the State (the Parliament, is meant, I suppose) by force of arms, to an immediate submission to their demands. We have uniformly, and, hitherto, most successfully, exhorted the people to adhere to a peaceable and orderly conduct. Such a falsehood as this, therefore, merits public execration, though the promulgation of it cannot fail to do good in the end, because it cannot fail to show the badness of the cause of our enemies, who, unless their cause were desperate, would not resort to any falsehood at all.

But to pass over all the rest of the impudence and folly of these men, let us come to their grand principle; namely, that, “whatever injuriesHampden sustained from the Government of Charles the First, no extenuation Edition: current; Page: [108] of the crime of fighting against the king can be found in the laws of either God or man.

Now, my good friends of Norwich, if this be so, the present royal family, and George the First, and George the Second, and Queen Anne, and King William the Third, and Lord Sidmouth, and you and I, and all the people in this nation were and are traitors against the house of Stuart and their heirs in the direct line of succession. My firm belief is, that Lord Sidmouth never read the declaration of these chandler-shop knights; and, I hope, that this will be a caution to him, not to permit any one to use his name in future in applauding any thing without first knowing what the thing is.

It signifies nothing, in this case, what were the injuries sustained by Hampden, because it is here declared, that be they what they might, he had no right to resist by force of arms. Hence it would follow, that, if a king were to dissolve the Parliament and levy taxes by his sole will, or were even to order his army to beat the people in the streets, or to poke out their eyes, the people must stand still and bear it all, without any attempt to resist, because to resist would be to fight against the king! Oh no! Lord Sidmouth never could have read the paper of these Brunswick knights. The history of John Hampden is, however, too interesting to be wholly omitted here.—Charles the First, who was beset by evil counsellors, and who had the misfortune to be married to a Bourbon wife, wished to rule the people of England in an arbitrary way. The Parliaments (which were newly chosen then always when they were called together) opposed his views. He wanted money, and he issued a proclamation to raise taxes, suspecting that the Parliament would not grant him the money. This was contrary to the laws of England. Mr. Hampden, who was a gentleman of Buckinghamshire, would not pay the taxes imposed on him. He was sued before the judges in the King’s Courts, who, being subservient to the king, decided against Mr. Hampden. The king’s necessities, however, at last compelled him to call a Parliament; and, after long disputes between the king and them, an open civil war broke out, and, in that war, Mr. Hampden lost his life in the field. The king, at last, would have gladly yielded up much more than his people asked for at first. But his yielding disposition came too late. He lost his life, as we all know, upon a scaffold, upon the charge of treason against the English people; and herein he tasted of that injustice and cruelty which his own ministers and judges had, in innumerable instances, practised on his suffering subjects in his name.

One would have thought, that an example so awful ought to have operated on his sons; but, so far from it, the second of those sons, James the Second, aided by the bloody Judge Jefferies, was guilty of acts of tyranny without end. The nation, resolved no longer to endure his ill-treatment, invited William, Prince of Orange, from Holland, who had married one of the king’s daughters, to come and take the Government upon him. William came, with an army, who had some fighting with the king’s troops, but the king, finding that the whole nation were deserting him, fled to France. William and his wife were made king and queen, and a law was passed to make every man a traitor who adhered to King James. When William and his wife were dead, another daughter of James became queen, by Act of Parliament, and that was Queen Anne. Now, observe, James had sons alive all this while; but, they were called Pretenders, and the Parliament actually compelled Queen Edition: current; Page: [109] Anne to offer, by proclamation, a reward for the head of one of these her brothers. When Queen Anne died, an Act of Parliament had provided for the accession of the present royal family, which was descended from a daughter of James the First, who was the father of Charles the First, and the grandfather of James the Second; and, by the same Acts of Parliament, the family of Stuart was set aside for ever.

These were pretty stiff proceedings, and may serve as a record upon the file of the Chapter of the Knights at Norwich. But, as you perceive, there was not only resistance to King James, but there was fighting against him by foreign soldiers brought over from Holland for the purpose! And yet your knights tell us, that Mr. Hampden was a traitor for fighting against the king, whatever injuries he might have sustained. There were men to preach the same doctrine at the time when James the Second was revelling in the blood of the people shed by Judge Jefferies; but, our forefathers were not so base and so foolish as to listen to those corrupt slaves; they rose against the stupid tyrant; they drove him from the throne; they afterwards set aside his despotic family for ever; and they happily succeeded in exalting and supporting the present royal family in their stead. This is what we mean by the “GLORIOUS REVOLUTION,” and it is well worthy of note, that, in the Proclamation, issued in 1792, against the writings of your famous countryman, Paine, he was accused of having attacked the principles of the “Glorious Revolution!”

The ignorance of the chandler-shop knights is equal to their impudence. Not only since the Revolution of 1688, above noticed; but, in all times, have the people of England claimed the right of resistance to oppression. I cannot quote the very words of Judge Blackstone from memory (and I have not my books near me), but, I know that he, though a very courtly writer, maintains this right as an inherent right of every people, and observes, that the common sense of mankind will not suffer itself to be insulted by the contrary doctrine. And how was Magna Charta obtained? Why, by the barons making open war upon the king, and compelling him to sign it. This charter, which was a mere recognition of the then ancient laws of England, was actually forced from the king; and yet these impudent brawlers, these pot-valiant knights tell you, that, let Hampden’s injuries be what they might, it was treason in him to resist the king, and that his conduct was not to be justified by the laws either of God or man! The laws of man, as we have seen, clearly justify this resistance; and, as to the laws of God, if we are to take for his laws what we find recorded in the Scriptures (and I know not where else to look for them), how numerous are the instances in which oppressors were punished, ministers, kings, and queens! An instance of each may serve. Haman was hanged on a lofty gibbet for his oppressions on Mordecai and the Jews. But the case in point is that of Ahab and Jezebel. King Ahab had taken a liking to the vineyard of Naboth, which the latter refused to sell him, it having descended to him from his forefathers. Jezebel, in order to put her husband in possession of the wished-for plat of ground, contrived to have Naboth seized upon a false charge of blasphemy, and to have him stoned to death. Ahab was, by the command of God, killed in battle for this act, and, his son, Ahaziah, having succeeded him with the curse still sticking to his family, Jehu, who was an officer in the service of Ahaziah, took a chosen band with him, slew the king his master, and afterward the queen-mother, Edition: current; Page: [110] whom he ordered to be thrown out of a window, “and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall and on the horses, and he trod her under foot.” Some of the friends of Ahaziah called this “treason” on the part of Jehu; but Jehu answered, “Surely I have seen yesterday the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons, and I will requite thee in this plat, saith the Lord.”

With this I take my leave of the Knights of the Order of Brunswick, being well assured, that they will never again show their faces in the streets of Norwich, unaccompanied with hisses and groans, though they carry, by way of protection, the applauding letter from the Office of the Secretary of State.

Let me now beg your attention to a subject of very deep interest at this time, and with regard to which it is of primary importance that we should all entertain correct opinions. We complain that the people of this kingdom are worse off than they used to be. We talk of the good old times of our forefathers. We conclude, that we might, under a good system, be as happy as our forefathers were; and, this good system we (I do for one) most firmly believe, would be brought about speedily by a reform of Parliament, and this belief we have proved to be rational. The sons of Corruption meet us at the threshold of the argument, and assert, in the most unqualified manner, that we are much better off than our forefathers were, whom they represent as a set of despicable raggamuffins and vassals. To read the essays upon this subject in the Courier and the Times, one would suppose, that, until the days of Pitt, or thereabouts, Englishmen were a species of barbarians, clad in skins of wild animals, sleeping amongst fern under hedges, and living upon hips and haws.

Now, if this were the case, the answer would be worth very little, unless it could be shown, that, because a father has been miserable the children ought to be miserable too. But this is not the case. The charge against our forefathers is as false as the hearts of those who make it. Englishmen, until within the last fifty years, when long Parliaments and banking and funding and borrowing and taxing began to produce poverty and misery and crimes, were always well off, in the oldest of times. They were always an industrious, an honest, a frank, a sincere race of men, and always bore an unshaken attachment to their political rights. Those, who, like me, are now fifty years of age, can well remember, when it was thought a sorrowful sight to see a labouring man apply for parish relief. Will these libellers of the people say, that our natures have been changed? And, if we were to allow that, by what have they been changed? No: the blood of our fathers circulates in our veins, but the want of what they possessed as the fair fruit of their toil, has compelled us to resort to alms and to parish relief. Well do I remember, when old men, common labourers, used to wear to church good broad-cloth coats, which they had worn at their weddings. They were frugal and careful, but they had encouragement to practise those virtues. The household goods of a labouring man, his clock, his trenchers and his pewter plates, his utensils of brass and copper, his chairs, his joint-stools, his substantial oaken tables, his bedding and all that belonged to him, form a contrast with his present miserable and worthless stuff, that makes one’s heart ache but to think of. His beer and his bread and meat are now exchanged for the cat-lap of the tea-kettle, taxed to more than three-fourths of its prime cost, and Edition: current; Page: [111] for the cold and heartless diet of the potatoe plat. I can well remember when the very poorest of the people would not eat potatoes, and I have lived to see people hanged for forcing them out of a market-cart at their own price! I can remember, when every poor man brewed a barrel of ale to be drunk at the lying-in of his wife, and another to be spent at the christening of the child. Now, I know not the instance of the cheering smell of malt finding its way into his dwelling, where dreariness and dread preside upon occasions which used to produce scenes of pleasing anxiety, congratulation, and innocent mirth. Perhaps many thousands of persons of my own age will read what I am now writing, and, if they have been conversant in the sphere of life to which I am adverting, their hearts will but too loudly tell them that the picture is true.

But, to what period will the calumniators of our forefathers go back? I will take them back four hundred years, and will draw my description of what our forefathers were then from Sir John Fortesqur’s work on the excellence of the Laws of England. This gentleman, who was Lord Chancellor in the reign of Henry the Sixth, wrote a book for the instruction of that king’s son, one of the objects of which book was to convince him, that it was his interest as well as his duty to preserve inviolate that excellent system of laws. In the course of his lessons, which are divided into chapters, he gives the prince a description of the effects of the good laws of England compared with that of the bad laws of France, which some of the prince’s ancestors had endeavoured to introduce into England. This leads him to speak of the condition of the English compared with the condition of the French; and, here it is, that we find the dresses, the houses, and the food and manner of living of our forefathers described; those forefathers who the Courier and Times would make us believe, were a set of vagrants, living upon pig-nuts and acorns and haws! Alas! The picture which is here given of France, would really be now very nearly applicable to England!

I am your friend,

P.S.—Walter of the Times has published what he calls a “CAUTION to the hawkers of Cobbett’s Register;” and then he tells his readers, that a man has been committed from the Hatton Garden police-office, for selling the Register in the streets, without a pedlar’s license.

Edition: current; Page: [112]


On the Manchester Pigtail-Meeting.—False-Alarms of no avail.—The Ministers do not wish for Sham Plots.—Signor Waithman’s Show, with all his pegs and wires.—His Letter to Sir Francis Burdett and Major Cartwright.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
January 20th, 1817
My Friends,

The appellation of “Weaver-Boys” was, by the sons of Corruption, bestowed on the speakers at the numerous meeting, held at Manchester, in November last, and which Weaver-Boys, it was said, had belcher handkerchiefs round their necks. Well! And what then? So much the worse for Corruption; for, if Weaver-Boys possess such spirit and such talent as were displayed upon that occasion against Corruption, how desperate must be her state! I was very much delighted with the whole of the proceedings of the day here alluded to; but, the speech of Mr. Fitton was that part that pleased me most. His just and spirited observations upon the false, upstart pride of those, who call themselves the gentlefolks of Manchester, were excellent. His “Order of the Pig-Tail” has always been present to my mind, since I read his speech, whenever I have seen, heard of, or thought of, any of the ridiculous vanities of puffed-up farmers or tradesmen. He laid on the lash not only with great force, but just in the tender parts. One would have expected a reformation of manners from such a castigation; but, it appears, that this stupid, this empty, this peacock-like pride is still to live a little longer. These vain persons seem still to entertain the hope, that they are to go on to the end of their days, treating as the scum of the earth those, to whose labour and talent they owe their wealth and all that they possess above the commonest labourer.

If, indeed, the object of any of the recent meetings had been to divulge plans of a levelling nature; if any propositions had been made to take from people of property any part of their property; if any scheme had been broached for destroying titles or any other ancient establishment; then there might have been good reason for the rich to stand aloof. But, what do we ask for other than our birthright? Magna Charta says, that no man shall be taxed without his own consent, and that Parliaments shall be annual. Lord Coke says, that Magna Charta cannot be abrogated even by Act of Parliament. What do we seek for more than these? And, because we ask for these, are we to be considered as persons aiming at general confusion and destruction?

Edition: current; Page: [113]

But, let us, before we proceed any further, hear what the “Social-Order” people of Manchester have to say. The following account of their meeting is taken from the Courier newspaper of the 18th instant, and a curious account it is. We will not do as our adversaries do. We will read with attention, and examine fairly. TRUTH is our motto, and, not an inch will we go without her sanction.

“A meeting took place on Monday last at Manchester, attended by the most respectable inhabitants of that town, Salford, and their neighbourhood; the Boroughreeve, Joseph Green, Esq., in the chair. Several Resolutions were passed with entire unanimity, and the following Declaration agreed to, which cannot be too highly applauded, and which we trust will be adopted by all other towns:


We the undersigned, Magistrates for the Division of Manchester, the Boroughreeves, and Constables of Manchester and Salford, and other Inhabitants of these Towns and their Neighbourhood, being at all times fully sensible of the many blessings of the Constitution under which we live, feel ourselves called upon at this moment to express our firm attachment to its laws, as well as our utter detestation of those mischievous attempts which are now pursued with incessant diligence and ardour, to excite a general spirit of disaffection. We especially deprecate the circulation of seditious tracts, and the adoption of inflammatory speeches, to produce an impression amongst the labouring classes, that the present distresses and privations are attributable to the corruption and misconduct of Government, and may be removed by a system of Representation, embracing almost universal suffrage, annual Parliaments, the unqualified exclusion of all persons deriving emolument from the public, and consequently of his Majesty’s Ministers.

The numerous Meetings held for these purposes, both publicly and secretly, the organised system of Committees, Delegates, and Missionaries, the contributions levied, particularly for disseminating pamphlets, calculated to mislead and irritate the public mind, the indecorous and highly unconstitutional reflections upon the exalted Personage now exercising the Regal Authority, the marked disparagement of the most extensive charitable relief in seasons of unavoidable pressure, the language of intimidation, not merely hinted, but plainly expressed, the appointment of popular assemblies in various parts of the Kingdom on one and the same day, after the meeting of Parliament, and the previous assembling of Deputies in London; all these circumstances afford strong manifestation of meditated disorder and tumult, and bear no analogy whatever to the fair and legitimate exercise of that Constitutional liberty, which is emphatically the birth-right and security of Englishmen.

With these decided sentiments, it is our duty to unite in supporting the Laws and Constitution against those wicked efforts, which we are convinced must be regarded with equal abhorrence by the great majority of his Majesty’s subjects in every class and condition of society. We, therefore, severally pledge ourselves to contribute, by the most effectual means our situations may allow, to the maintenance of the peace and tranquillity of these towns and their neighbourhood, from the unlawful and nefarious designs of those who are seeking to involve us in riot and confusion; and we earnestly solicit the cooperation of all friends to SOCIAL ORDER and good government.”

This is the “declaration” of this famous meeting, and, it shall now be shown, that it is a tissue of falsehoods and follies. But, in the first place, where was this meeting of Magistrates, Constables, Boroughreeves, and “most respectable inhabitants” held? What hole, what corner, was the scene of its deliberations? If its object had been fair, and if any argument founded on truth had been at its command, why was not the meeting public like those of the Reformers? Where is the public paper, which apprized the people of such meeting? It was a secret meeting to Edition: current; Page: [114] all intents and purposes, and as such it ought to be regarded.* The “most respectable inhabitants” were there, it is said. That is to say, I suppose, the most rich. I do not believe the fact; but, if it were so, why did not these respectable inhabitants attend the Meeting of the mass of the people in November? They were most respectfully invited to attend; they were pressed to attend; they were urged to come and take the lead, agreeably to their weight in point of property. They, if they thought Parliamentary Reform improper, might have come and shown the people that it was improper. Why did they keep aloof, then, and lose the opportunity of peaceably effecting, or, at least, endeavouring to effect, that which they can never effect by force? They must have powerful reasons to give against Reform, or they possess no such reasons. If the latter, what can justify their outcries and their accusations against the Reformers? And, if they have powerful reasons to urge against Reform, why do they not fairly meet the people, and endeavour to convince them of their error? Why do they keep aloof from the Meetings of the people, and, when those Meetings have passed, assemble in this private manner, to accuse and abuse the people? In fact, the only reason for their keeping aloof, is, that their ignorance as well as selfish fears make them enemies to Reform, and that they have no reasons to give why a Reform should not take place. However, they have the honour to hear their efforts applauded by the sons of Corruption, with which honour they will have to remain content.

This Meeting charges you, whom they call “Weaver-Boys,” with using “language of intimidation.” What? “Weaver-Boys,” intimidate! Who are they to frighten? No: but our adversaries use this sort of language and that, too, in the most open manner. They threatened the labouring classes at Bristol with starvation, if they went to the Reform Meeting; the Magistrates in London and Westminster cautioned all peaceable people against going to Spa-fields; men have been menaced for selling my Register; some have been taken up, under the Hawker’s and Pedlar’s Act, for selling them without a license; and, I understand, that this has been threatened to be done for selling openly in a market-town on the market-day, though this is expressly allowed by law. I am informed of one master manufacturer in Lancashire, who has threatened to turn off every man to starve, “who shall even read Cobbett.” The name of this petty tyrant shall be made known as soon as I receive the evidence in detail; for such an execrable despot ought to be held up to public scorn; and, indeed, legal punishment ought to be inflicted on him, and shall be inflicted on him, if I find, that the law will bear me out. I will neglect nothing to expose, and, if possible, to punish legally such men as this, who are not to be allowed, I am sure, thus to treat their workmen as the lowest of slaves. After all this, which has been seen going on in all parts of the country, it is pretty impudent in this Meeting to talk about the “language of intimidation,” made use of by Reformers!

Come, come! grave gentlemen of the “Order of the Pigtail!” you do not mean what you say. You know, that it is we who have the majority, and that, too, a majority of a hundred to one! And it is your Edition: current; Page: [115] knowledge of this fact which alarms you. Yet, what are you to do? What do you propose to accomplish? What is the professed object of your Association? Do you associate against “Jacobins and Levellers?” Alas! there was a “Loyal Association against Republicans and Levellers” held at the Crown-and-Anchor, London, four-and-twenty years ago, aided and supported by all the immense means which the Government had in its power, having a settled correspondence with all clergymen and benches of magistrates, and having at its command hundreds and hundreds of spies and informers. This GRAND ASSOCIATION against Jacobins published thousands upon thousands of pamphlets and hand-bills. The Treasury, the Post-Office, the Police-officers, the Hue and Cry, almost all the newspapers were at its back. And, after all, what did this famous Association accomplish? Why it succeeded in frightening the rich and timid, in deluding the ignorant, in inflaming thoughtless vigour and zeal, and in causing Paine to be burnt in effigy in almost every part of the kingdom. But, mark! At the end of twenty-five years of war and taxation, and loans, the principles of Paine have been established by the fulfilment of his predictions; and if what the pigtail meeting at Manchester have declared, be true, “social order” is in as much danger as ever, and Jacobins and Levellers more numerous! What a hopeless task is it, then, to endeavour to get rid of these Jacobins in this way? What! expend more than a thousand millions in taxes, and contract a debt besides of more than another thousand millions; waste half a million of lives of the stoutest and most vigorous of our population; restore the Bourbons and the Inquisition; efface the very name of republic in Europe; establish legitimacy and proclaim a holy league of kings and emperors; and, after all this, form loyal associations in England against republicans and levellers and enemies of “Social Order!”

The truth is, that principles are not to be stifled by force of any sort; and, if the nobility, the clergy, and the gentlemen of England do not see this now, they never will see it. The very same principles which were on foot in 1792, 3, and 4; the very same principles for which so many scores of men suffered, are now in as full activity as they were then. Messrs. Tooke and Hardy were tried for their lives, and were proved to have been guilty of nothing but seeking for that Reform which Pitt and Wilberforce had been seeking, in co-operation with Mr. Tooke, ten or twelve years before. We still seek the same thing. Major Cartwright, who acted with Pitt and Mr. Tooke in those times, is still at his post with the same principles on his lips and the very same publications to enforce those principles. Where, then, is the ground for hope, that these principles are capable of being subdued, especially now that the people have experience of the past and present to bring forward in proof of the misery and degradation which acting against those principles produce?

At the period to which I have just alluded, the social-order men did not content themselves, however, with writing, speaking, and associating. Great as were the advantages that they possessed in this way, they dared not rely upon them. Bills to suspend the sacred right of petitioning; bills to suspend the Act of Habeas Corpus; bills to make that treason which was not treason before; bills to enable the Privy Council to imprison men for any length of time without trial by jury; bills to license presses and to curtail the freedom of the press. These were the means Edition: current; Page: [116] resorted to in order to keep down the Reformers of that day. These were the means that came to the aid of the arguments and facts, contained in the pamphlets and hand-bills of the “Loyal Associations against Jacobins and Levellers;” that is to say, against those who called for a Reform on the principles of Magna Charta! But do the pigtail order suppose that such means will be resorted to NOW? They are evidently driving at this point; but they do not reflect far enough. They do not see how such measures would operate now. They do not perceive what complete confusion such measures would create. They do not perceive that all the pretences then put forward for the necessity of such measures would now be wanting.

At the time when the above-mentioned bills were passed, the pretences were that the powerful and populous kingdom of France was in a state of hostility against all “regular government;” that the chiefs of those levellers had invited every other people to revolt, and had offered them their assistance; that there were numerous persons in this country willing and ready to obey the call; that the people in France had killed their king, and that there were people in England disposed to do the same by theirs; that all property had been despoiled and all religion destroyed in France, and that the agitators in England were bent upon the same project, hoping for the assistance of the rebels and atheists in France; that the French had an immense army ready to pour on our coast at any moment of a wind unfavourable to the movements of our fleet; that Ireland was in almost open rebellion; that our property and religion and the life of the king were in imminent danger, and, therefore, the said measures were absolutely necessary to the safety of these and of the very independence of the nation.

NOW all is changed. By our blood, and money, and debt, we have restored the Bourbons; we have re-established “social order” and the Pope in Italy, and “social order” and the Inquisition in Spain; the Republicans of France have all been killed, banished, or silenced; the priests in that country have got all back but the tithes; the French people, the Times, and Courier tell us, love the Bourbons and look back with sorrow and shame on the republican days; that country is in close alliance with our Government; all the republics in Europe are destroyed; there is a holy-league of all the emperors and kings; the divine principle of legitimacy is recognised all over Europe; there is nowhere any example or any aid to which republicans and levellers can look; our Government is, we are told, the envy and admiration of the whole world; it has triumphed after a long and most arduous trial. “The play is over,” said the Courier, just after the battle of Waterloo, “and we may now sit down to supper.

Edition: current; Page: [117]


William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
30th January, 1817
Lord Sidmouth
Lord Sidmouth
My Lord,

It is now about twenty-seven years, since Burke, who soon afterwards became a great pensioner for life, with a reversionary pension to his wife, and on whose executors, for three lives, two large grants of the public money, annually paid out of the taxes, is settled; it is now about twenty-seven years since that man drew his quill against the Parliamentary Reformers, whom he designated by all sorts of foul appellations, and, to stifle the principles of whom, he cried aloud for that war, which, after having, by its final success on the Continent of Europe, restored the Bourbons and the Inquisition, has left this country in a state of misery, which I believe to be without a parallel in the history of civilized man. It is now about twenty-four years, since Mr. Grey (now Lord Grey) presented to the House of Commons a Petition on the subject of the state of the representation, and praying for a Reform of that House. That petition has laid on the table of the House from that day to this, and nothing has been done respecting it. No one has ever attempted to deny its allegations, or any part of them. It is now about twenty-four years since the sword was drawn, and the leagues entered into against the people of France, and since new, and heretofore unheard of, penal statutes were passed to keep down the spirit of Jacobinism, as it was called, but which was visible only in the shape of Reform.

Now, my Lord, look back over these years of prosecutions, imprisonments, transportings, hangings, quarterings, and bloodshed, in every way in which blood can be shed! Look back across this scene of human woe, and reflect on the situation of this kingdom at the outset of the contest! In the year 1792, before the fatal war begun, the annual expense on account of the Debt was less than nine millions; that charge is now more than forty-four millions. The annual amount of the poor-rates was then about two and a quarter millions; that amount was, last year, eight millions, and, this year, it will, probably, be nearer twelve millions than eight. Crimes, the increase of which is the most certain as well as the most lamentable proof of an increase of the misery and degradation of a people, have increased in a degree equal to the increase of the Debt and Taxes. The whole of the taxes, in 1792, amounted to less than sixteen millions. Last year they amounted to nearly seventy millions. We do not possess an account of all the crimes in so accurate a way; but, from returns laid before the House of Commons up to Edition: current; Page: [118] 1809, it appeared, that, taking the country all through, crimes had increased with the increase of taxes; and, from a paper transmitted to me some time ago by Mr. W. Goodman of Warwick, and which paper he also transmitted to Sir Richard Phillips, who has inserted it in his excellent Magazine for this month, it appears, that for the county of Warwick, the number of prisoners tried in 1792, was one hundred and six; and that the number of prisoners tried for the same county in 1816 was five hundred and twenty. There can be little doubt, that the increase of crimes is in nearly the same proportion throughout the whole kingdom; and, surely, a more melancholy fact never was made known to the world.

When the war was at an end; when the “new doctrines,” as they were called, had been trampled under foot by our Government and its allies upon the Continent, your Lordship must remember into what insolent strains of triumph the Times newspaper and its readers burst forth! However, these persons, not satisfied yet, then began to put forth their declarations, that the republic of America must also be subdued; they said (or, at least, Walter did), in direct terms, that it was necessary to the tranquillity of the world, that the American Government should be overthrown; that “this mischievous example of the success of Democratic Rebellion” should be destroyed. And, all the London newspapers published, under the title of a speech, delivered by Sir Joseph Yorke (one of the Lords of the Admiralty) in the House of Commons, just after the fall of Napoleon, a declaration, that more was yet to do, for that James Madison was not yet dethroned!

Alas! My Lord, you know but too well how that war was carried on, and how it ended! And you also know, that Mr. Madison, after a most glorious career as the Chief Magistrate of a free and happy people, has now retired to spend his old age as a private citizen, beholding his country settled in perfect peace and uncommon prosperity.

And, how does your Lordship, at the end of this quarter of a century of war, find Old England? How does she stand at the close of this long contest against the principles of democracy, as we called them? How has peace found her? In 1814, when the kings and “Old Blucher” were feasted and huzzaed, and when the country was all in a blaze with bonfires and illuminations and fires to roast oxen; in that hour of the triumph of Walter and Stewart and all the swarm of corruption; in that hour of drunken joy, I, for my part, not only mourned, but I openly expressed my mourning, and I gave my reasons for that mourning, and put them upon indelible record. I saw that my country was ruined; I saw that days of deep and lasting misery were at hand. When the overseer of my tithing came to ask my subscription towards the ox, which had been led by my door, decorated with orange-coloured ribbons: “No,” said I, “Mr. Haines, I will keep my money for the time, when this bawling and feasting and boozing will be turned into cries of distress and starvation, which time is at no great distance.” Mr. Haines’s civility prevented him from laughing in my face, in which respect he was more civil than the public in general. But, my Lord, a short time has proved my apprehensions to have been but too well founded. I had long seen, that the system of Paper-Money, and Debts and Funds and Standing Armies could not go on in peace, without the utter ruin and starvation of all labouring classes. This was proved in “Paper against Gold,” and the principles had been asserted and enforced by me many years before. It was under this conviction, that, Edition: current; Page: [119] so early as the year 1804, when the annual charge of the Debt was not much more than the half of its present amount, I most anxiously laboured to produce a change of system. After thirteen years of unpopularity and obloquy, I have lived to see the truth of my opinions recognised by ninety-nine hundredths of the people, and not openly denied, or, if denied at all, by mere assertion, unsupported by any show of argument. I have lived to see more than a hundred public newspapers adopting all my formerly reprobated doctrines about the Debt, the Sinking Fund, the Funding System, the effects of Taxation, the Pauperizing degradation, and, indeed, the whole of that set of doctrines, by which I was distinguished only to be censured or ridiculed.

Now, my Lord, this is a wonderful change! It is a complete revolution in the mind of a whole nation. A far more important revolution it is than that of 1688, which very justly expelled one Royal Family and introduced another in its stead; and, if there be any two points, upon which men are now more unanimous than upon any of the others, connected with politics, it is these two: namely; first, that taxation produces misery, and misery crimes; and, second, that the only effectual remedy for these dreadful evils, under which the nation is now smarting, writhing, and groaning, is, a Radical Reform in the Commons’, or People’s House of Parliament. Upon these points the public mind is made up. The truth of the positions has been demonstrated so clearly; and the impression of this truth upon the public mind is so deeply engraven, that it is impossible for any human power to remove it.

This being the state of things, it is hardly necessary for me to tell your Lordship, that your Letter to the Lord-Lieutenant of the County of Leicester, as published in the Courier of Saturday last, has given me an uncommon degree of pain, and especially as being signed with your name. Saving much of disapprobation, which I have often expressed with as much openness as I dared, I have had some things to say in cordial approbation of your Lordship as one of the servants of the King; and, I shall always recollect, that, when, just upon the eve of that trial which ended in so heavy a punishment on me, some of the base wretches of the press had asserted, that you paid me money for writing a paper, in 1803, calling upon the people to defend their country against the menaced attack of the French; I shall always recollect, with what promptitude and kindness your Lordship, in a paper under your own hand, enabled me to refute this base and malignant accusation. There is also another fact, which, in justice to your Lordship, I ought, at this critical moment, to state. And that is, that Gillray, the caricalurist of St. James’s-street, who, when your Lordship became Prime Minister in 1801, exhibited you in such odious colours, confessed to me, that he did it, because you had stopped his pension of two hundred pounds a year. I could mention others, whose enmity your Lordship was honoured with on the same ground; and, my real belief now is, that if you had had a Reformed Parliament to co-operate with you, England would have recovered from her blows, and would have been, at this day, a flourishing, happy, and contented nation. But, alas! the system was too strong for your wishes. You were compelled, either to sink, or to go with the stream.

My Lord, all the means of national wealth, power, and happiness, save and except good laws and liberty, must arise from the land. We are not, on this account, to esteem those who own or who till the land more Edition: current; Page: [120] than we esteem the rest of the community; but, it is from the land that all must arise. It is notorious that those who till the land of this kingdom are in a ruined state. The average price of farm produce has fallen much more than one-half. And here, my Lord, give me leave to remind you of an expression of your colleague, Lord Castlereagh towards the close of the last session of Parliament. A great deal had been said, by Mr. Western and others, about the want of price. The farmers only wanted price. The agricultural correspondents, the agricultural societies, all over the kingdom; the movers of resolutions in the House of Commons; the authors of numerous pamphlets, in behalf of the poor unfortunate farmers; Lord Sheffield and his wooll-people at Lewes; the wool-growing delegates and their convention: all these several individuals, and all these tribes of projectors, called aloud for high price; high price was what they wanted; give them but high price, and they would continue to pay taxes, to get drunk at the markets, and to swear and ride over people, on their return home. “Well!” said Lord Castlereagh, in the month of May last, “then the distress is temporary only; for I perceive that wheat is rising in price. I see that in Scotland wheat is already got up to eighty shillings the quarter, and it is not likely that it should long keep below that price in any other part of the kingdom. And, when wheat is got up to eighty shillings a quarter all over the kingdom; I shall be glad know where will THEN be the distress?”

His Lordship’s argument was very fair against Mr. Western, Mr. Coke, and the other gentlemen of high price. It was absolutely a flail (against which his countryman, Swift, says there is no argument) upon the heads of the silly farmers and their friends: but, as against me, and those who thought with me, the ingenious Lord’s argument was not worth a straw; for I told him, as I had told the Corn-bill gentlemen a year before, that high price, unless it were occasioned by fresh bales of paper-money, sent forth by the Old Lady in Threadneedle-street, and her more than thousand children, who are distributed all over the country; I told them, and had been telling them for years, that, unless prices were kept up by this cause, there could be no price, be it as high as it might, which would save the farmer and the tradesman from ruin, and the journeyman and labourer from a state approaching to starvation. And now, my Lord, pray look at the result. Wheat is now, not eighty shillings a quarter, but a hundred and ten shillings a quarter; and that too, your Lordship will please to observe, while all those ports are open, which the silly and greedy farmers were for keeping for ever closed. “Where will then be the distress,” said Lord Castlereagh, “if wheat gets up to eighty shillings a quarter?” It has got up to a hundred and ten shillings a quarter, and the distress is greater than ever!

And thus must it go on, unless new bales of paper-money can be got out, or unless taxation be greatly reduced. The fruit of productive labour is now taken and given to unproductive labour in such a large proportion, that production and re-production, with all their wonderful effects, are daily and hourly diminishing. This is the cause and the only cause, of the miseries of the country, and of the far greater part of the crimes that now blacken the calendars of the sessions and the assizes. It is curious to observe that His Royal Highness has been advised to ascribe the national distress partly to the “unfavourable state of the Edition: current; Page: [121] season.” Why, my Lord, it is that very season which has caused that very high price, upon the return of which the Corn-bill conjurors most seriously relied, as the infallible means of the renovation of their affairs, and of the restoration of prosperity. So that here we find ourselves in this curiously interesting dilemma, that, while his Royal Highness is advised by his Ministers to lament the existence of a season which has casually produced high prices, the whole corps of land-owners and farmers, divided into battalions and platoons throughout the counties and the hundreds, are bellowing with lungs of Stentor, and with the constancy of the pendulum of a clock, for the creation and continuation of high prices, as the only remedy for all our difficulties, and as the sole means of restoring the nation to ease and happiness.



Meeting on Portsdown.—Misery and not Reform the cause of Riots—Funding System the cause of misery—Dreadful state of Islington, Coventry, &c.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
February 5, 1817
Life-and-Fortune Men,

Being rather in haste to set off to a Meeting on Portsdown-hill, which is to be held on Monday next, you will have, I hope, the goodness to excuse me, if I am not quite so ceremonious as your correspondents generally are.

I have read, and the people have read, not with indignation, for no effort of your venom is now capable of exciting a feeling of so high an order; but we have read, with scorn and contempt, the attack on the Parliamentary Reformers contained in your Declaration, issued by a Meeting of you at the London Tavern on the 31st of last month, which meeting is stated to have consisted of bankers, merchants, traders, and others, and amongst the names of the persons signing which declaration are several of those who have the management of the affairs of the Bank of England. I shall presently speak more particularly of the terms and assertions of that Declaration; but first, it is impossible to refrain from remarking, that most of you were amongst the addressers of 1793, who then urged the Government on to that war, of the expenses and the debts of which this nation is now tasting the bitter, the poisonous, the destructive fruit. You are, in fact, the same body of men, the chasms made by time having been filled up as they occurred. Curious this fact is to contemplate! What! At the end of twenty-five years of war and glory against republicans and levellers, do you find it necessary to come forth Edition: current; Page: [122] again! Again, after more than a thousand millions have been expended in taxes and nearly another thousand millions of debt have been contracted for the purpose of preserving what you call the Constitution! Again, after the Bourbons and the Inquisition and the Pope and the Jesuits have been restored, after all the republics of Europe have been destroyed, and after a holy alliance has been solemnly concluded between all the principal sovereigns! Again, after such volumes of congratulation on the triumph of social order, after all the ox-roasting and temple-building in commemoration of that glorious triumph, and after we have been told that “the play being over we may now sit down to supper!” After all this, do we behold you sallying forth again with your imputations against Parliamentary Reformers, and with your promises and vows to assist in keeping them down? But, before I proceed to comment on your declaration, let me first insert it, that the world may hear you as well as me.

The place of your meeting is not unworthy of notice. “The London Tavern.” Why in a house? why in a hired room, if you meant that your declaration should carry any weight with it as expressing any thing like a public sentiment? It was at this same London Tavern, that the famous position of “a sudden transition from war to peace” was blown to air by Lord Cochrane, and which position is now scouted by the Members of both Houses of Parliament without the smallest degree of ceremony or reserve. The London Tavern was no place to hold a meeting of the people of London, and the place of meeting shows, that it was judicious in you not to imitate the language of the Manchester declarers, who insist, that they speak the voice of “the great body, or great majority, of his Majesty’s subjects.”

Your declaration, after the introductory verbiage, is in the following words:—

“We, the undersigned Merchants, Bankers, Traders and inhabitants of London, deem it to be incumbent on us to come forward with a declaration of our sentiments on the present crisis of public affairs. We are far from being insensible to the evils which at present affect every class of the community, more especially the lower orders; we are anxiously desirous that every praticable means may be used for alleviating their distresses; and we entertain a sanguine hope, that the embarrassments with which we have to struggle, will, by the exercise of a wise and enlightened policy, be overcome; and that the agriculture, manufactures, and commerce of the country, will at no distant period revive and flourish.—We are satisfied at the same time, that nothing can tend more to retard the accomplishment of our wishes and hopes, than the endeavours which have recently been exerted with too much success, by designing and evil-minded men, to persuade the people that a remedy is to be found in measures which, under specious pretences, would effect the overthrow of the Constitution. To these endeavours may be traced the criminal excesses which have lately disgraced the Metropolis and other parts of the Empire; and the still more desperate and atrocious outrage which has recently been committed against the sacred person of the Prince Regent, on his return from opening Parliament, in the exercise of the functions of our revered Monarch. We cannot adequately express our abhorrence of these enormities, which, if not repressed, must lead to scenes of anarchy and bloodshed, too appalling to contemplate; and we feel it to be a solemn and imperious duty we owe to our country, to pledge ourselves individually and collectively, to support the just exercise of the authority of Government, to maintain the Constitution as by law established, and to resist every attempt, whether of craft or violence, that may be directed against our civil liberty and our social peace.”

Now, you will hardly be so hypocritical and so cowardly as to pretend, that you do not mean the Parliamentary Reformers, when you speak of Edition: current; Page: [123]designing and evil-minded men,” and that you wish to cause it to be believed (as if any body would or could believe you!) that the “late riots in London, and other parts of the Empire, and even the attack upon the Regent are to be traced to the endeavours” of the Reformers. Great as may be the hypocrisy of which you are masters, you will hardly attempt to deny, that this is the meaning of your words. And, this being their meaning, was there ever a more audacious falsehood published to the world!

First, as to the “criminal excesses,” committed in other parts of the “empire,” who told you, that this was an empire?” Where did you pick up that new-fangled slang? To what half-foreign jargon-monger have you been to school? This is a kingdom, that is to say, a commonwealth, a political mixed government, having a king for its chief. We acknowledge no imperial sway, and, in spite of your jargon, you may be sure, that we never shall; for before we do that, we must burn all our laws and all our law-books, and forswear all the notions of our forefathers, which we shall not do, in order to follow the example of a set of dealers in paper-money, whose traffic, as we shall by-and-by see, has been one of the great causes of our ruin.

But, not to criticise further, where censure and condemnation are so loudly called for, what proof have you, that “criminal excesses” out of London can be traced to the Reformers? Where have these excesses been committed? In the Isle of Ely; in Suffolk; in Wales; at Dundee. That is all, I believe; and, you know well, that in neither of those places has there been any meeting for Reform. In all those places some misguided and suffering people have made attacks upon the threshing-machines, or have assembled to demand a rise of wages, or have seized on food in bakers’ and other shops; but in no one of those cases has there been, amongst the people so assembling, any talk even about Reform. Some of the unhappy creatures have suffered death for their “criminal excesses;” their confessions or pretended confessions, have been published to the world; and, in those confessions not one word is to be found about the influence of Reformers on their minds.

Then as to the riot in London, which was really very criminal, you also well know, that Reform and Reformers had nothing to do with the matter. The Watsons, though persons, until that day, of excellent character, appear to have adopted the Spencean principles, which without my troubling myself about them here, are well known as having nothing to do with Parliamentary Reform, whatever any base and malignant and profligately corrupt man may say to the contrary, Nay, so clear is this fact, that Mr. Hunt, who came up the first time to Spa-fields upon the invitation of the Spenceans, without knowing any thing of their projects, threw aside the memorial that they had prepared, and proposed a petition for Reform and relief, which was laid before the Prince by Lord Sidmouth, and which was soon after followed by a donation, or grant, of five thousand pounds by the Prince, and by that large soup-subscription in the city, which appears never to have been so much as thought of before It was then, and not till then, that a meeting took place at the Mansion House; that so piteous a picture of the state of the poor of Spitalfields was exhibited to the public: then Mr. Buxton was extremely eloquent, but, until then, he was silent upon the subject. So, that, though I call not in question the motives of any of the individuals engaged in promoting that subscription, but, on the contrary, do most sincerely commend those motives, I say, and I Edition: current; Page: [124] shall always say, that the subscription and all the relief it has afforded, are to be ascribed to Mr. Hunt more than to any other person. The example of the Prince Regent had, doubtless, a great effect on the subscribers, and I am willing to give it its full due; but, it was Mr. Hunt who was the cause of the deep distress of the people being MADE KNOWN to his Royal Highness, who, had it not been for the Petition from Spa-fields, would, probably, never have heard of them.

Well, but there have been persons seized, and papers seized upon those who were accused of a plot upon that occasion. And, even letters from Mr. Hunt have been seized. They have, however, never been published nor ever brought forward upon any trial. The fact is, they contained no proof of any wish to produce unlawful acts, but, I dare say, precisely the contrary. The rioters have been tried; all the evidence has been produced against them; but not one word about Parliamentary Reform. There have, however, been words enough about distress and misery, and some of these words you shall now have from the lips of the poor unfortunate Cashman, when he was asked “why sentence of death should not be passed upon him?”—These are the memorable words:

My Lord,—I hope you will excuse a poor friendless sailor for occupying your time. Had I died fighting the battles of my country I should have gloried in it: but I confess that it grieves me to think of suffering like a robber, when I can call God to witness that I have passed days together without even a morsel of bread, rather than violate the laws. I have served my king for many years, and often fought for my country. I have received nine wounds in the service, and never before have been charged with any offence. I have been at sea all my life, and my father was killed on board the Diana frigate. I came to London, my Lord, to endeavour to recover my pay and prize-money, but being unsuccessful, I was reduced to the greatest distress, and being poor and pennyless, I have not been able to bring forward witnesses to prove my innocence, nor to acquaint my brave officers, or I am sure they would all have come forward in my behalf. The gentlemen who have sworn against me must have mistook me for some other person (there being many sailors in the mob); but I freely forgive them, and I hope God will also forgive them, for I solemnly declare that I committed no acts of violence whatever.”

Where, then, are the grounds upon which you so impudently prefer these charges against us? Is not the country already in a state of distraction, great enough, without your endeavours to excite such powerful feelings of resentment and eternal ill-will amongst such numerous classes of the people?

But, though you cannot trace any of the lamentable occurrences, of which you speak, to the writings, the speeches, or the actions of the Reformers; and though you will not attempt to trace them to their true cause; I shall not, my good Life-and-Fortune-Men, be so shy upon the subject; and, therefore, I shall here treat you with my DECLARATION, which I beg you to receive, as an appropriate answer to your own.


Whereas, certain Bankers, Stock-jobbers, and others, of the City of London, have recently met, at a Tavern, in the said city; and whereas, being so met, they then and there issued a certain Declaration, in which they falsely and calumniously ascribed the divers riots which have taken place in the several parts of the kingdom to the proceedings of the Parliamentary Reformers, whom they impudently call “designing and evil-minded men;” and, whereas it is expedient that the said riots should be traced to their true causes, and as I think myself able to do this with Edition: current; Page: [125] great simplicity, I, William Cobbett, with a view of doing this, do hereby declare:

First, That it is a notorious truth, that the riots in the County of Suffolk, in the Isle of Ely, in the principality of Wales, at Dundee in Scotland, and in the city of London, have all been carried on, and perpetrated, by persons in great want and misery; that the manifest object, in all these cases (and no riots have taken place any where else), has been to obtain food by means of violent proceedings; for, though threshing-machines were destroyed in Suffolk; though the people in the Isle of Ely demanded a rise of wages; though the people in Wales demanded employment; though the people of Dundee complained of the high price of oatmeal; though the sailors in London broke open gunsmiths’ shops in a very unlawful and unjustifiable manner; and though the conduct of all the parties, in all these cases, cannot by any means be defended; still, the fact notoriously is, that all these riots and criminal excesses have had for their immediate cause a greater or less proportion of that terrible and unexampled distress, which now pervades every part of the kingdom, and which, while it astounds the mind of the wise and melts the heart of the humane, can never be mitigated, but must be augmented, by every attempt, whether arising from folly or knavery, to disguise itsreal and all-powerful cause.

Second, That the more immediate cause of this distress and this misery, are, a want of employment, and an incapacity to afford a sufficiency of relief to the unemployed part of the Labouring People, who necessarily have no capital or stock whereon to live.

Third, That these evils have arisen, not from a “sudden transition from war to peace,” but, from a deep-rooted cause of calamity, namely, a system of fictitious currency, which, by its sudden transitions from high to low, and then again from low to high, has ruined, in many instances, has broken down in more instances, and has crippled in all instances, the land-owner, the farmer, the master-tradesman, the ship-owner, the master-manufacturer, and all those engaged in the employment, or protection, of productive labour.

Fourth, That these sudden transitions have arisen from the vast quantity of Paper-money issued by the Bank of England some years ago, and by her nurselings, the Country Banks; and that that immense issue of Paper-money, which at once brought down prices, and raised up taxes and salaries, was owing to the stoppage of Cash Payments at the Bank of England, in the year 1797; and which stoppage arose, as the Records of Parliament inform us, out of an APPLICATION MADE BY THE THEN GOVERNOR AND DIRECTORS OF THE BANK OF ENGLAND TO THE MINISTER OF THAT DAY.

Fifth, That, amongst the Governor and Directors of the Bank of England of that day, I find the names of several of the signers of the above-mentioned Declaration at the London Tavern; and that, therefore, I am clearly of opinion that I have logically “traced” the late “criminal excesses” to those worthy gentlemen themselves.

This is declaration for declaration, and I am not at all afraid to submit them, side by side, to the common sense of mankind. But, my worthy Declarers, I am not going to stop here. It is now very nearly fourteen years since I stood alone, and for thirteen years I stood alone, in Edition: current; Page: [126] declaring it to be my fixed opinion that the total ruin of the country, that the upsetting of all property, that the miseries of confusion, must ultimately ensue at no very distant period, if a stop were not put to the increase of the Debt and the Paper-money. This period is not yet arrived indeed; but it will require very great wisdom, and very resolute measures with regard to the Debt and the expenditure in general, to prevent its arriving.

I now hear gentlemen and noblemen enough in the two Houses of Parliament ready enough to adopt and to utter many of my sentiments on this subject, which sentiments were, for many, many years, held in derision by some, and considered as criminal by others. I have heard my Lord Grey now say, that the taxes which were imposed in one currency, are now collected in another currency; and his Lordship might have added, and, perhaps, did add, though it is not in the report of his speech, that the same remark extended to rents, tithes by composition, leaseholds, ground rents, annuities, bonds, mortgages, marriage settlements, and all the other transactions between man and man; and, surely, if the taxes were imposed in one currency, and are now collected in another currency, all that large part of the Debt which has been borrowed since the year 1797, was lent in our currency, and ought not to be paid in another currency.

Every man who has only common sense, now sees that the Funding System has produced all the mischief. To it we owe all our calamities. This is now evident to the nation at large; and, in my work of Paper against Gold, I have proved, step by step, not only that the Funding System has been the cause of our calamities; but I have also proved that, from its very nature, it must be the cause of such calamities. All our troubles would vanish in a moment, if this system were at an end. The Ministers themselves would gladly get rid of their standing army; for, what is the use or pretended use, of this army at home in time of profound peace? Why, it is said, to preserve the tranquillity of the country. And what disturbs the country? Why, the miseries of the people. And what makes the people miserable? Why, the great weight of taxes, and the fluctuations in the currency. And what makes the great weight of taxes and the fluctuations in the currency? Why, the Debt and the paper-money. And what makes the Debt and the paper-money? Why, the Funding System. Thus it is to this system that we owe the standing army and every evil that oppresses us; the whole of that combination of evils which now astounds even me, who have been anticipating those evils for many years.

Reformers, indeed! It is not Reformers, men, generally speaking, without riches, who can thus agitate society and shake a great State to its very foundations. It must be something far more powerful than speeches and writings to produce effects like these. Besides, Reformers have been at work for forty years, and they once had Mr. Pitt and the Duke of Richmond at their head. No: it is the Debt,—the Funding System; these are the causes of all the dangers, which the ancient establishments of the country now feel. The Church complains of an intended law levelled against it. The Clergy are called upon, in the St. James’s Chronicle, to meet in the Deaneries all over the kingdom; to hold adjourned meetings, and to protest against the intended law. And, meet they will, too, and not one moment too soon. What has produced this intended measure against their property? Why, the sufferings of the Edition: current; Page: [127] farmers; and, as was before shown, these sufferings have arisen from the Funding System.

What folly, as well as what impudence, then, is it, to cry out against Reformers! As if they could add to, or lessen, the great dangers which hang over the State. There is a green bag full of papers, it is said, laid before Parliament, proving the existence of plots against the “whole frame and laws of the Constitution.” So says the Courier, who appears to have had his nose in the bag, even before it was carried down. There may be, for anything that I know to the contrary, some wild projects on foot for altering the frame of the Government; but I am very sure, that they are all vanity and nothingness, when compared with the Funding System; and, if a clear statement relative to the Debt and the taxes, and the effects of these, had been put into the Green Bag, and had been strongly recommended to the attention of the two Houses, it would, it appears to me, have been much more likely to tend to the preservation of tranquillity than any other step that could have been taken.

Put down meetings, indeed! Alas! if such a measure, painful as it is to one’s feelings as an Englishman, could possibly tend to restore the nation to happiness, or to lessen its unparalleled miseries, I would hail it as a boon; for, now the suffering is too dreadful to be thought of without deep mental affliction. You affect to “trace” all appearances of discontent to the Reformers. It is true that you feel no misery; but, is there none any where else? A few plain facts will suffice; and they now lie before me in print.

“The poor-house at Bilston is so full of occupants that there is not room for them all to sleep at the same time; but an equal number of them retire to rest in rotation.”

At a meeting of the inhabitants of Wilton, held on Monday last, for the purpose of considering of some mode of alleviating the distresses of the town, which were occasioned by the increase of its poor-rates, it was ordered, that the poor should be employed by sending them in rotation to the different householders, in proportion to what they were rated at. This mode of employment is called, by labourers in husbandry, ‘working on the stem.’ ”

In the City of Coventry, on a population of about 20,000, there are more than 8000 paupers.

In some parishes, the poor men are lodged and kept separately from their wives.

But as an authentic and ever-to-be-remembered statement of shocking facts, and as an incontrovertible proof of the awful consequences of a Funding System, I insert the following paper, word for word.

R. Oldershaw
Oldershaw, R.
N. Thompson
Thompson, N.

Condensed Statement of the Poor of St. Mary, Islington; as prepared by the Committee appointed for that purpose, Jan. 31, 1817.

From examination of the different District Reports, it was found, that

730 Poor Families, consisting of

1371 Adults,

1712 Children, comprising a total of

3083 individuals, had been visited, a large portion of whom required, and had received relief.

It also appeared that there were totally out of employ about 300 persons, who were not only out of employ, but almost naked, without a bed to lie upon, and WITHOUT A PENNY TO PURCHASE BREAD.

In addition to those totally out of employ, the cases of many, who are only partially employed are numerous and very distressing, some of them earning only a few shillings a week, with six or eight helpless children.

Edition: current; Page: [128]

There are 93 families that have from five to nine children.

There are also 181 families that receive parochial relief, the total amounting to 21l. 15s. 6d. per week. This does not include the casual relief given by the parish-officers, nor what is distributed by the different benevolent funds in the parish.

To assist in ascertaining the distress of the parish, inquiry was made into the amount of goods pledged, and it was found to be as follows:

Districts. Number of Families. Amount. 1st 120 £209 3 0 2nd 44 39 9 0 3rd 78 27 0 0 4th 220 400 0 0 5th 138 291 13 6

To ascertain exactly the amount of goods pledged has been found impossible, but considering that three-fourths of the 4th district remain unreported in this particular, and one-fourth amounts to 400l., there is no doubt of the amount being at least 1500l. in the whole parish, comprising pledges for various sums, from THREE HALFPENCE to 20l. The article here alluded to, was the property of a poor but respectable widow, who travelled nearly three miles, from the extremity of the parish where she resided, TO PROCURE THREE HALFPENCE UPON IT!!

The Committee intended to have given some particular cases of distress, to convey to the parish some idea of their nature and extent, and of the NECESSITY FOR FARTHER CONTRIBUTION; but they have found the cases of extreme poverty and privation SO NUMEROUS, that they must confine themselves to a general representation of facts, and in doing this, for reasons which will be sufficiently obvious, they will avoid the mention of any particular names.

The Committee have met with unfortunate tradesmen of irreproachable character, sinking, and pining in secret, with numerous young children, as five to seven, the wife ready to lie in, the husband in ill-health, rent and many little debts owing, without any means to pay them. Other families where the husband is nearly 70 years of age, the wife ill in bed, a child or two to maintain, and the whole earnings not exceeding 7s. a week. Others, where they have by distress been obliged to pawn almost every necessary, to provide in the interim a little sustenance, who are willing to work, but can find no employment; and some families have been found, where the poor people, with hardly anything to cover their nakedness, have not even a bed of the poorest kind, but lie upon straw or shavings—all their little earnings being unequal to the cravings of hunger.

Among these are many people who have seen better days, and have endeavoured by every means to avoid becoming burthensome to their parish or their neighbours, and who, it is to be feared, would have actually perished, but for the investigation to which the present institution has given rise.

Some of these cases, with a little pecuniary aid, might be enabled again to become useful members of the community; but such is the extent of the present distress, that the first object should be to meet those cases of distress, under which, without relief, the sufferers are in danger of perishing. The liberality of the parish will, it is hoped, effect this; and if, in addition, some relief of the kind hinted above could be extended afterwards to DECAYED AND UNFORTUNATE TRADESMEN, who by a little pecuniary aid could be restored to usefulness, the benefit would be incalculable.”

(By Order) R. OLDERSHAW, Jun. and N. THOMPSON, Jun.

And yet (O impudence!) the Reformers are accused of exaggerating the distresses of the country, and the Courier abuses Lord Grey for dwelling on the public distress, as being the real cause of the prevailing discontents! Alas! my good Life-and-Fortune Men, it is not your lives and fortunes that have been sacrificed. You pledged your lives and fortunes to carry on wars and make loans; but, it is not your lives and fortunes that have been in danger.

Edition: current; Page: [129]

Alas! what can Green Bags, or the result of the opening of their contents; what can these do towards the restoration of happiness to the people? If all meetings, all petitioning, all writing, all printing, all speaking, all whispering, were instantly put a stop to, not one single moment would that measure retard that steady march which great causes are now keeping on towards great and inevitable consequences. This march might, in my opinion, be checked by a Radical Reform in the Commons’ House of Parliament; but, without that Reform, my decided opinion is, that it cannot.

You seem to imagine, that the people are wholly ignorant of the real source of their calamity. Read, then, the following paragraph in the resolutions that preceded an excellent petition just agreed to in the City of Coventry.

“That whilst the holders of every article, purchased or manufactured when bank-notes were depreciated, have been compelled to reduce their price to the standard of sterling money; whilst every individual charged with debts contracted at the same period, has been also obliged to pay their full nominal amount in sterling money, thus sustaining a loss equivalent to the difference in the real value of the currency, at the respective periods: The distress, consequent upon this natural operation of causes over which the sufferers had no control, is considerably increased, by their still being called upon to pay in taxes, their share of the full interest of the debt (called national) contracted by the Government, principally in the depreciated currency.

Thus, you see, the matter is understood by the people at large. They can “trace” as well, and a little better, than you can, or, at least, than you choose to do it; and, though the members of the two Houses have not yet spoken out, you may be sure that they will do it before they separate. You seem to imagine that the leading men amongst the Reformers wish to carry their views into execution by assault. They must be great fools if they do, seeing what an evident tendency there is, in all the circumstances of the times, to assist their views more and more every day. It is right to petition for Reform; it is right to endeavour to obtain it by all lawful means; it is right to bring forward the measure in a fair and distinct form. But, it is wholly unnecessary to be impatient, seeing that it must come at no very distant day, and that, too, with very little opposition. Whatever may be your hopes, this agitation about the Reformers and the Spenceans will not last many weeks. It is not the green bag, but the budget, which will soon become the interesting object, and we shall see, before this session of Parliament is over, whether the political economy of Mr. Colquhoun, the police justice, or mine be the most sound and rational.

Edition: current; Page: [130]



William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
11th February, 1817

The things we pray for are called innovations. The word innovation, which merely means the introduction of something new, is a very pretty word, though it only serves as a blind on this occasion. To make a dirty narrow street into a wide clean street is an innovation; but there is no harm in it. To make an impassable lane into a turnpike-road is an innovation. So that an innovation may be a very good thing, though, as in the case of the enclosure and private appropriation of the beautiful Forest of Bere, which has destroyed hundreds of thousands of growing oaks, within a few miles of our greatest naval arsenal, in order to make way for the growth of miserable crops of straw with little or no corn, an innovation may be a very bad thing. But, at any rate, we propose no innovations. We propose nothing that has not been before in our country. We propose Annual Parliaments, and that every man who pays taxes shall have a vote choosing those who lay the taxes on us; and we are ready to prove that these are not new, but very old indeed.

But, for the argument’s sake, if we did propose an innovation, I should be glad to know what objection that would be to us, supposing the proposition to be good in itself? Is every thing to go on undergoing changes except such changes as may favour the people of England? To hear this objection, especially in the House of Commons, one would imagine, that our laws had never been changed since the island was first settled by a civilized people. Far different, however, is the fact, as a short list will show.

  • 1. There is now a law to license printing-presses, to punish men who make use of presses not licensed. Every Printer, Type-maker, and Press-maker is compelled, under a heavy penalty, to keep an account of all the authors and others who employ them, and to be ready to give evidence, against them, if called upon. Is not this an innovation?Edition: current; Page: [131]
  • 2. Every Printer is compelled to print his name and place of abode at the bottom of every thing that he prints; he is compelled to keep a copy, in order to its being produced, if called for, to the Secretary of State; any publisher, printer, and proprietor of a newspaper are compelled to go to a place called the Stamp-office, and there swear, that they are so, and they are also obliged to make oath to their several places of abode; and the publisher is obliged to deposit one copy of every number of the paper in the Stamp-office, where it is ready to be produced against all the parties, at any time, in prosecutions for libel; so that the parties are thus compelled, under heavy penalties, to furnish, in case of prosecution, evidence against themselves.
  • 3. Special Juries are also an innovation, especially in matters of a criminal nature. A Special Jury consists of forty-eight men, nominated and appointed by the Master of the Crown-office, of these forty-eight the man who is to be tried for a libel may strike off twelve, while the Attorney-General’s man or the Government prosecutor does the same, and the first twelve who come into the box out of the remaining twenty-four make the Jury to try the cause. But, what is the use of this striking off, when the master of the Crown-office appoints the whole? Observe what a difference here is from the case of a Common Jury, who consist of a great number of men, called together by the summonses of the constables from all parts of a county, all the names of whom are put into a box, and, when a man is going to be tried, the ballots are taken out promiscuously, and the first twelve are the jury to try the case. Here the officers of the crown have no power of choosing; but, in the other case, they have the full power of nominating and appointing the jury; that is to say, out of all the men in Middlesex, for instance, who are in the sheriff’s book, they may take, and do take, just the forty-eight which they please and no other. And this is the sort of jury, by which every man is tried, if he be prosecuted by the Attorney-General. And, you will bear in mind, that juries were intended to protect men’s lives and property against any undue bias that might exist in persons in authority.
  • 4. The stamping of newspapers, and, thereby, checking the circulation of information as to matters connected with politics.
  • 5. The compelling of all publishers of pamphlets to carry a copy of each and lodge it at a Government-office, in order that the Government may have it in its power to know what every man is about in this respect; in order that it may see what is circulating amongst the people; and, in order that it may know who to prosecute, if it thinks proper.
  • 6. The Attorney-General’s powers are tremendous. He can, at any time, bring an accusation against any body, by what is called an ex-officio information; he can compel the party to plead; he can bring him to trial, or he can put the trial off as long as he pleases, and may keep a charge hanging over a man’s head during the whole life of such man. When he has brought the man into court, he can stop the proceedings upon the spot; he can go on with them; he can, in any stage of the matter, forgive the man by wiping away the charge against him. He can, if two men publish the same thing, prosecute both, and let the one off without actually bringing him to Edition: current; Page: [132] punishment, while he brings the other to punishment; and this was actually done only about five or six years ago. After a man has even been convicted on an information of the Attorney-General, the latter can even then let him off by not bringing him up for judgment; or, he may let the poor wretch remain in a state of uncertainty for years; and, after that, bring him up and have him punished. He may commence a prosecution against a man this year, as was done by the late Lord Thurlow against Mr. Horne Tooke, and never bring him to trial for years afterwards, and never at all, if he does not like it. But, these powers, though they are all innovations on the Common and Ancient Law of the land, have received, of very late years, and in the Attorney-Generalship of Sir Vicary Gibbs, a most dangerous addition; namely, the power of holding to bail, or sending to prison in default of bail, the moment an information ex-officio is filed; and, observe, that this may be done, too; and it actually was done by Sir Vicary Gibbs in the year 1803, without at last bringing the party to trial! He filed an ex-officio information against a man, he called the man up to give bail, the bail was not to be had, the man was ACTUALLY IMPRISONED, and he NEVER WAS BROUGHT TO TRIAL ON THE INFORMATION!——This terrible power has not existed more than about eight or nine years.—Yet, our revilers and slanderers talk about the danger of our innovations, as they have the impudence to call them. But about the innovations that I am here talking of, they say not a single word.
  • 7. In all informations, such as I have been speaking of, for what are called libels, that is to say, writings which the Attorney-General chooses to prosecute men for, the charge against the accused was, formerly, that he had put forth something FALSE, scandalous and malicious; but, of late years, that is to say, within about fifty years, the word false has been left out; so that, though the publication may be all true, it, nevertheless, according to this new practice, may be very criminal.

All the above things, except some of the powers of the Attorney-General, are innovations of very modern date. Special Juries, as applicable to criminal cases, are not more than of about sixty or seventy years’ standing; and all the Licensing of Presses and Stamping Laws, as far as relates to the press, are of not more than twenty-five years standing, except a trifling part of the newspaper stamp.

  • 8. The whole of the Game Laws are an innovation upon the common and ancient law of the land; many of them are of very modern date; and that law, by which a man may be TRANSPORTED for being engaged in poaching, after a certain hour in the evening, and before a certain hour in the morning, was passed only last year!—Is not this an innovation?
  • 9. The whole of the Excise Laws are an innovation upon the common and ancient law of the land, which held, that every man’s house was his castle, whereas these laws authorize officers to go into many persons’ houses at any hour of the day or of the night; and, in some cases, the Excise officers may actually keep the keys of people’s premises! And, though some of these laws are of more than a century standing, the far greater part of them, including Edition: current; Page: [133] the penalties of fine, imprisonment, banishment, and even death, are of modern date, and are a complete and most awful innovation.
  • 10. Paper-money and all the laws relating to it, all the hanging laws for forgery, all the whole train of this terrible system is an entire innovation; things wholly unknown a hundred and twenty years ago.
  • 11. The Debt, the Funds, the Stocks, and all the laws relating to them, the mortgaging of the taxes; all are an innovation.
  • 12. The Civil List is an innovation. The Kings of England maintained their splendour out of the produce of their own Royal Domains, such as the New Forest, &c. They had now and then grants from the people, but in the main, they lived upon their own revenues. It is not till very lately that this has been changed, and in my opinion, to the great injury of the King and his Family, whose estate has been taken by what is called “the public,” but of the produce of which estate I can never discover that “the public” receive any thing worth speaking of.—Is not this an innovation?
  • 13. The Police Justices and all the whole of that establishment is an innovation. England was until the time of Pitt, too happy to need an establishment of this sort. Ordinary Justices of the Peace, Gentlemen of the Counties, Constables, Tithing-men, Mayors, Aldermen, Bailiffs, Beadles. These were quite sufficient, without resorting to a Police, the very sound of which word was hateful to English ears, because it was well known to be a dark and inexorable instrument of tyranny in France and other despotic countries.—About twenty-three years ago our Police was established; that is to say Justices were hired at a salary, and officers hired to serve under them at a salary. These Justices may be turned off and deprived of their salaries whenever the Crown is advised to turn them off. They have not only the power to take up and commit thieves and robbers and murderers, but to license public-houses, to refuse licenses to public-houses without cause assigned, to impose fines under the Excise-Laws, Game-Laws, Stamp-Laws, Hawker’s Act, and, in short, to do every thing that the ordinary Justices of the Peace may do; and, as they are very numerous and are enabled to act as Justices of the Peace throughout the Counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and Essex, they have, in fact, a most monstrous degree of power. They can and do sit at the Quarter Sessions in all those Counties, and, of course, they possess more power in all these Counties than can reasonably be expected to be possessed by all the Gentlemen in the same Counties, who serve as Justices of the Peace without salaries.—Here is an innovation, if people want to find innovations to cry out against!—If the necessity of the times; if the vast increase of the Metropolis; if these require a set of thief-takers by profession, and persons to be paid salaries to exercise certain powers of Magistrates, surely it cannot be necessary, that these same persons should have the power of licensing and refusing to license public-houses, that they should have cognizance of cases under the Excise-Laws, the Stamp-Laws, and the Poor-Laws.—It is said, in the newspapers, that these powers are going to be taken from them by Act of Parliament; but, as the thing now stands, this alone is an innovation of most fearful magnitude and most terrible effect.Edition: current; Page: [134]
  • 14. I could make this dozen of innovations into twenty dozen; but, at present, I will stop with the Bank of England and its cash stoppage. The Bank itself (the greatest evil that this or any other nation ever experienced) is only one hundred and twenty years old; and we Reformers ask for nothing that is not five times as old. But the cash stoppage is the thing, and that is only twenty years old, come the 27th of this very month of February.—The Bank had always put forth notes which were payable to the bearer, on demand, in gold or silver. But, in February, 1797, when people began to like gold and silver better than the notes of the Bank they went to the Bank to get their money. The Bank Company, that is to say, the Governor, Directors and the other persons who had put forth the bank-notes, found that they had not wherewith to pay their notes. They were very hard run, and they applied to the Minister, Mr. Pitt, to inform him that they were in alarm for the safety of their concern.—In short, they refused to pay their notes on the 27th of February, having obtained an Order in Council to do so—“Well,” you will say, “but the holders of the notes sued them for payment, did they not?” No, faith! for an Act of Parliament was soon afterwards passed to protect the Bank Company against all such suits of their creditors, and to screen them from the effects of their having violated the law!—This protection and this screening has been carried on, by divers Acts of Parliament, from that day to this; and though it is written upon every bank-note, that the Bank will pay so much or so much to the bearer on demand, it does not mean that it will pay him one single shilling in gold or in silver, but that it will give another note, or other notes, in exchange!—And (yet hear it, O! Englishmen!) when you ask for a Reform of the Commons’ or people’s House of Parliament, you are called wild, visionary, misguided, and, above all things, you are called innovators!*

Now, then, without going any further, what have the corrupt to say? Will they say, that these are not innovations? Will they say, that time and a change of circumstances have rendered those innovations necessary? And, if they say this, why do they cry out against us for proposing what they call an innovation? For, if we were to allow it to be an innovation, why should our proposal be rejected upon that ground, seeing that no other alteration of the laws and usages of the country has ever been objected to with success upon that ground? The whole history of the Bank stoppage is contained in my little book called PAPER AGAINST GOLD; but I have here given enough of fact to show what the nature of that memorable transaction was, and also enough to make good the allegations contained in the eleventh paragraph of our petition.

It is very curious, that the surrender, or, rather, the dropping of Lord Camden’s great sinecure, should have been announced directly after the Edition: current; Page: [135] presenting of the Hampshire petition. I do not mean to say, that one was produced by the other; but certainly the surrender has been produced by the petitions of the people. However, it is an abolition of all sinecures and all pensions and grants, not fully merited by well known public services; this is what we pray for; and, I am fully persuaded, that this is what we shall very soon see take place.



Thanks for his Lordship’s Defence of the People.—Fair Play’s a jewel.—The Question of Reform fairly argued.—Annual Parliaments.—Universal Suffrage.—Mr. Brougham’s Sincerity.—Foul Conduct of the Corrupt Writers.—Green Bag and Cheap Publications.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
February 19th, 1817
My Lord,

Your Lordship’s speech, as given in the newspapers of last week, has given great satisfaction to every candid man in the country, and to no man more than to him who has now the honour of addressing you. If people are in error, it is not by misrepresentations and revilings and abuse that they are to be convinced of their errors. This desirable end is not to be arrived at by imputing to the leaders seditious designs, and to the people the grossest of ignorance. This is not the way to silence the former, nor to gain over the latter. If we, who hold for Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage, be in error, your Lordship has taken the right course to make us patient, at least, and to wait to hear what can be urged in opposition to our opinions. The flippancy and rancour and affected contempt, with which we have been assailed by corrupt and scrambling men, have only tended to excite our just resentment against them, and, which is worse, to make us confound with those corrupt scramblers, all other persons, who appear to be co-operating with them in general.

The course, which your Lordship has pursued, is precisely the opposite of that of the persons here alluded to. The mildness of your language, the justice of your sentiments, the whole tenor of your manly declarations call upon us to listen to you with the greatest respect, and if we still retain our opinions, to show by fair statement and reasoning that the grounds of those opinions are such as to warrant us in differing, as to those opinions, from those which your Lordship has so explicitly and fairly expressed.

You have been, in your reported speech, pleased to observe, my Lord, Edition: current; Page: [136] that a Reform of Parliament of some sort is necessary and just; and, that you consider the seven years Parliament “as a direct infringement of the Constitution, as a violation of the rights and liberties of the people, and that the Act, sanctioning those Parliaments, ought not to remain in the statute-book;” and, your Lordship is pleased to add, that you would give your support to a bill for Triennial Parliaments; but, as to Annual Parliaments, you do not think them agreeable to the Constitution; and, as to Universal Suffrage, you cannot help calling it universal impracticability. But, though you differ with us in opinion upon these points, your Lordship’s words, which I cannot help repeating here, convince us, that while you would leave our minds free, you have a mind of your own, open to receive whatever we have to urge in defence of our opinions.

“But because he differed with others on that subject, was he therefore (as was well expressed by a noble person on a former evening, in a most eloquent and convincing speech) to wish to see those with whom he differed, imprisoned and gibbetted, hung, drawn, and quartered? Was he to wish to see a Judge Jefferies, or one acting in the spirit and power of a Judge Jefferies, placed on the Bench, for the purpose of committing a legal murder on these people? For instance, should he wish to see Major Cartwright, whom he understood to be a most respectable person, because he entertained such contrary sentiments, and endeavoured to propagate them through the country, should he wish to see his mouth closed, not by argument and fair discussion, but by the bloody hands of an executioner?—The thought was shocking, monstrous, and diabolical! As the fortitude of the people had been great under their difficulties and privations and sufferings, so had their conduct in all places, where meetings for retrenchment and reform had been held, been most exemplary; and, indeed, it was remarkable and even surprising that it should have been so, considering the great numbers that have been assembled in various places, and the warmth that naturally arises in large bodies when assembled from various quarters to discuss matters, where grievances are felt. This was at least no symptom of disaffection, and he trusted, from such patient discussion, much good would arise.

My Lord, these words will endear your name to the people of this kingdom; for it is nothing short of the whole people, in the proper sense of the word, of whose conduct your Lordship has here spoken; and I venture to assure your Lordship, that the satisfaction, which the people will derive from your just description and your high commendation of their own conduct, will still fall short of their gratitude to your Lordship for the manner in which you have been pleased to speak of that venerable patriot, that learned, able, wise, disinterested, brave, unconquerable, true-hearted Englishman, Major Cartwright, whose private life has been as amiable and as spotless as his public exertions have been long, arduous, and valuable. It is indeed, “monstrous and diabolical” to think of answering such a man by the hands of an executioner, and scarcely less monstrous, or less diabolical, to think of answering him by shutting his mouth by force of any sort, or to think of answering any body else by similar means. The folly, too, is equal to the wickedness of such attempts; for, is it possible to suppose, that, if the people have been induced to believe anything, no matter what, they will be induced to unbelieve it by the use of force to compel their teachers to hold their tongues? or to lay down their pens? No, my Lord, there is something so unfair, so unjust, so tyrannical, and so insolent in all propositions tending to encourage such attempts, that the very tamest drop of blood in the very tamest of hearts is roused into resentment at the very idea.

In your Lordship we have a fair, an open, a manly, a truly noble adversary, Edition: current; Page: [137] not of us, but of some of our doctrines; and, therefore, my Lord, I shall proceed, with great respect, to state to you the reasons on which I conceive those doctrines to be well founded; and this I shall do much less with a desire to triumph in the dispute, than with the hope of contributing some little matter towards gaining over to our side a person of such great weight and such high character as your Lordship.

In so manfully and truly stating, that seven-year Parliaments are “a direct infringement of the Constitution, and a violation of the rights and liberties of the people,” you have spared us the trouble of contending, that we have a right to a reform of some sort. Nor is this a small matter, seeing, that, for years past, all reform has been in another quarter, asserted to be wholly unnecessary, and that the whole thing, as it now stands, is agreeable to the Constitution.

Seeing, then, that the thing, as it now stands, is, “a direct infringement of the Constitution, and a violation of the rights and liberties of the people,” we come naturally to consider what sort of a Reform would reinstate the people in the possession of those rights and liberties, of which possession they are now deprived? We say Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage; your Lordship thinks that the former are not agreeable to the Constitution, and that the latter is impracticable. These are the two points, which with great respect and submission, I propose to argue with your Lordship; and, not to argue them upon mere precedent or ancient usage, but also upon the ground of equity, and of the fitness of the things, considered in their natural effects under the circumstances of the nation in these times in which we live.

That Parliaments annually chosen were the ancient law of the land is, I think, evident from the very words of the Statute of the 4th year of Edward III., Chapter 14, passed in the year 1331; for though the word holden once a year is made use of, it is, nevertheless, clearly proved by Mr. Granville Sharp, in his “Declaration of the People’s Rights,” and which was published in 1775, that Parliaments were newly-chosen every time that they were called. He has there cited several instances of new Parliaments being summoned year after year successively by a new writ of election; he mentions some years in which two, or more, new Parliaments had been summoned by different writs of election, in the space of a single year. And, that learned and venerable lawyer and excellent man, Mr. Baron Maseres, in speaking upon this subject, says: “so that it may truly be affirmed, that, in those ancient times, the people enjoyed the privilege of electing new representatives in Parliament, either once in every year, or more than once, if the King found it necessary to have another Parliament before the end of the year.”

These remarks of Mr. Baron Maseres are to be found in a new quarto edition, published a few years ago by White, in Fleet-street, of General Ludlow’s famous Letters in defence of the Long Parliament in their conduct against Charles the First, in which Letters also Ludlow insists upon the people’s rights to “Annual Parliaments.

Now, my Lord, were Ludlow and Granville Sharp, and is Mr. Baron Maseres; are these to be looked upon as “wild and visionary men?” Are they, too, to be considered as “designing and evil-minded persons?” Or, are they to be numbered amongst the “deluded” and the “seduced?” Where will Mr. Perry, and Mr. Brougham be pleased to station Mr. Baron Maseres? will they place him upon the list of the “knaves” or upon that of the “fools” of the day.

Edition: current; Page: [138]

However, my Lord, I am ready to acknowledge, that, though the ancient laws and usages of the land are decidedly for Annual Parliaments, such Parliaments ought not to be contended for, if it can be shown, that the restoration of them would now be unfit; that it would be productive, or tend towards, any mischief to the nation, or to any of the great and settled laws and establishments of the land; and especially if it were at all likely to introduce that strife, confusion, and anarchy, of which our virulent opponents affect to be so much afraid. But, my Lord, why should annual elections lead to such consequences? It is the opinion of Mr. Baron Maseres, that Annual Parliaments would have a precisely opposite tendency and effect.

“Now,” observes that truly learned man, “if this good old law were to be revived, would there be any danger of such violent and expensive and often ruinous contests, at the time of elections, as are seen in the present mode of proceeding, when the general elections occur only once in about six years? For, as the representatives would be constantly disposed to cultivate the good opinion of their constituents, and, by their conduct in Parliament, to promote their interests and wishes, as far as their own consciences and judgments would allow them; in order to be re-elected by them in the next year, it is probable that there would be much fewer contested elections, and changes of the representatives, than there are at present. And from the harmony that would generally subsist between the members of Parliament and their electors, the dignity and respectability of the House of Commons would be increased, and the confidence of the people, in the wisdom and uprightness of their measures would be restored; and the resolutions that would be taken by them would be generally allowed to be in reality, what they are now often called and pretended to be, the true expressions, or declarations, of the sense of the people at large, on the subjects to which they relate. It seems probable, therefore, that the revival of this good old law, for choosing new Parliaments every year, would be attended with very happy consequences, and give general satisfaction to the nation.

I think your Lordship will agree with me, that these are the reflections of a sober-minded friend of his country; and, indeed, my Lord, the truth of them appears to me to be so obvious, that I cannot help thinking, that it must strike every one who reads with impartiality. Was it ever known that the shortening of the duration of any obligation to obedience tended to discontent, restiveness and violence on the side of the bounden party? Men who have the power of choosing new masters weekly, are much less disposed to serious discontents than those who can choose them only yearly, and those who can choose them yearly, require a much less rigorous law to bind them than is required to bind those who are held to their masters for seven years, though there is in this case a sort of prize at the end of the term of obedience.—Your Lordship has seen how readily soldiers have enlisted for a limited time, and how backward they have been to give up their right of choice for life. In short, it is notorious, that men submit for a short time, peaceably and quietly, and even cheerfully, to that which they would die rather than submit to, if the period of submission were known to be of long duration, and the mere chance of redress removed to a distant day.—“Never mind! It is only for a few months!” Is not this the language of all mankind? Is not this the language of every human being, who is aggrieved, or who thinks himself aggrieved, and who knows that the day of redress, or of his seeking redress, is at hand? Is not this the effect, the invariable effect, of a short duration of every kind of obligation to submission or obedience? How often has every gentleman, Edition: current; Page: [139] every employer of every description, every occupier, every landlord, every guest at an inn, said, “No matter! It is not worth while to quarrel. I shall be rid of the connection by such a time, and I will take care to avoid the same in future.” How often, how many scores of times, has every man, be he who or what he may, said this during his lifetime!

Why, then, should it be supposed, that this tranquillizing effect would not be produced by Annual Parliaments? Why should it be supposed, that the very cause of content and tranquillity in all other cases should be the cause of discontent and uproar and confusion in this particular case? Why should it be supposed, that the laws of nature herself would become perverted and produce their opposite in the breasts of Englishmen? I will not insult your Lordship by appearing to believe, that you will adopt, much less act upon, any such supposition.

If there are people to suppose, that the House of Commons would, by annual elections, be so varying for ever in its members, that the laws would be continually changing, I beg your Lordship, besides the weight of the observation of Mr. Baron Maseres, to remember the old maxim, that “short reckonings make long friends,” than which a truer maxim never dropped from the lips of wisdom; and the experience of all mankind shows, that those quarrel least who have the most frequent power of adjusting their affairs. The Legislative Assembly of Pennsylvania, for instance, is elected by new writs annually; and, I venture to assure your Lordship, that new faces and changes of laws are much less frequent there than in the House of Commons in England. The government of Pennsylvania is no very new thing. It is as it was originally formed by the famous Englishman, whose name the State bears. He carried to those desarts the laws of England. He built his government upon those laws, while the Stuarts were trampling them under foot at home. He knew that Annual Parliaments were the law of the land. He planted them in his new domain; there they have lived and flourished, and under them a system of sway, which has produced a scene of social tranquillity and happiness such as is to be found in no other part of the world. Because I refer to this instance in support of my argument, I am not to be supposed to desire other changes here after the model of Pennsylvania; but, as far as the instance goes, it is, I presume, entitled to all the weight to which any case in point can be entitled.

As I am not aware of any objection, save those that I have here noticed, against Annual Parliaments, I shall now proceed to the second point, mentioned in your Lordship’s speech, namely, Universal Suffrage. And, here, suffer me to take the liberty to refer your Lordship to the Hampshire Petition, which not only prays for suffrage to this extent, but which also briefly states the grounds on which the prayer is founded, and points out the futility, as the petitioners deem it, of the objection with regard to its impracticability.

It is, my Lord, a well-known maxim of the Constitution, that no man shall be taxed without his own consent. Every man is now taxed; therefore, if he has no voice in choosing those who make the tax-laws, he must be taxed without his own consent. But, this is not all that the law of the land says in support of our claim. The laws of England have always held, that every man not a bondman (and there are no bondmen now) ought to have a voice in making, or assenting to, the laws, either Edition: current; Page: [140] by himself or his representative in Parliament. Sir Thomas Smith, who, as your Lordship need not be told, was a great lawyer and a Privy Councillor in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, in a work called “The Commonwealth of England,” has this passage: “Every Englishman is intended to be present in Parliament, either in person, or by procuration and attorney, of what pre-eminence, state, or quality soever he may be, from the prince to the lowest person in England, and the consent of Parliament is taken to be every man’s consent.” This old lawyer, though he was a Privy Councillor to a Queen who had very high notions of her prerogatives, still called England a “Commonwealth,” and talked not of Monarchy and Legitimacy, which words are become so fashionable now-a-days!

The Book of the Assizes, which, as your Lordship knows, is a book of great authority, says, that “Laws, to bind all, must be assented to by all.” And how are all to assent to laws, if only a part, and that, too, a very small part, have a voice in choosing those who have power to make the laws.

Fortescue, who wrote in the reign of Henry the Sixth, always talks of the Parliament as the representatives of the whole kingdom, the whole realm, and the like; and never seems to suppose, that any man is excluded from voting.

Blackstone, who was a Court-lawyer, and in modern times too, could not blink this great principle without over-setting the whole of his commentary. He says, in Book I., chap. 2, “Every man is, in judgment of law, party to making an Act of Parliament, being present thereat by his representatives.” But, the grand principle, which is the clencher of all that any one has ever written on the subject, is in Book IV., chap. 1. “The lawfulness of punishing criminals is founded upon this principle, that the law by which they suffer was made by their own consent.

Now, my Lord, what can be urged in answer to this? How is it possible to explain away the meaning of these plain words? How is it possible to root out of men’s minds principles like these, if once implanted there? And, is it just, my Lord, to call our principles novel, wild, and visionary, and to accuse us of a wish to throw the country into confusion, because we inculcate these same principles? Are we “designing and evil-minded men?” are we “deluders and seducers?” are the Reformers what an impudent man has called them, “knaves or fools,” because they have presumed to attach to plain and definitive words a plain and definitive meaning?

But, it is not the law of the proposition for Universal Suffrage, which your Lordship appears to dispute; it is the practicability of the thing; and, it would be unreasonable as well as rude in me to treat this objection of your Lordship lightly, seeing that I had such doubts of the practicability of it as to induce me, at a late meeting of Deputies in London, where Major Cartwright presided, to make a motion, proposing to stop at householders, and not to go so far as to embrace every man of twenty-one years of age, that being, as your Lordship knows, what is meant by the shorter phrase, “Universal Suffrage.

Upon the occasion here referred to, I stated all the difficulties, which, after long reflection, had occurred to my mind. I did not see how men who had no settled and visible dwelling in the safety of which they were interested, and which must be well known, could be polled with accuracy Edition: current; Page: [141] at an election, especially in populous places. I did not see how large crowds of men could be prevented from marching from one parish to another, and thereby voting twice or thrice in the same day, and for five or six different members. In short, I was lost in the mist of confusion which this scene presented to my mind, and I, therefore, proposed to stop at householders, really seeing in the other proposition, that “universal impracticability,” which your Lordship appears to perceive.

Some persons in the Meeting agreed with me, but the majority were clearly on the other side, though my objections had, as I thought, not been removed. At last a very sensible and modest man, whose name I am sorry I have forgotten, and who came from Middleton in Lancashire, got up and gave an answer to my objections, in somewhat these words:

“Sir, I cannot see all, or any, of the difficulties, which Mr. Cobbett believes to exist in the way of taking an election upon the principle of Universal Suffrage. I have seen with how much exactness the lists of all male inhabitants, in every parish, inmates as well as householders, have been made out under the militia-laws, and I see no reason why regulations, which have been put in force universally for calling us forth to bear arms in defence of the country and of the estates and property of the country, should not be put in force again, and by the very same officers, for calling us forth to exercise our right of suffrage at elections.”

This was enough for me. The thing had never struck me before. And, my Lord, what difficulty can there be in making out the lists of all men of twenty-one years of age, in every parish every year, two or three months before the day of election, and of having those lists ready to check the poll on the day of that election? It would be simply the names and the age that would be to be ascertained. Whereas in the case of the militia-laws, there are, besides these two facts, the circumstances of marriage, of number of children, of parochial settlement, of previous service, of substitution, of pecuniary means, of height, of bodily ability, and other circumstances, all to be inquired into and ascertained. Yet all these are ascertained under the militia-laws, and they become the foundation of proceedings affecting the personal liberty of every man, above eighteen and under fifty years of age. And, if all this could be done, and done so effectually too, shall it be pretended, that correct lists cannot be made out in each parish of all the names of all the male inhabitants, living in the parish on any given day? It would be even easier to do this than to take an election by householders; because, it would, in populous places, be very difficult to ascertain, who were, and who were not householders. The man who really rented a house might not be the man who lived in it. Two or three, or more, families might live in the same house. The fact of residence would be accompanied with numerous others all of a doubtful or questionable character in many instances; and, then, it never could be endured, that a pauper householder should have a vote, while the independent single lodger should have none. Houses might be let for a month or a quarter. In short, the difficulties would be far greater than in the other case, the mode of ascertaining all the facts of which are so easily ascertained, being liable to no exception, except the single one of under age.

And, my Lord, what is so easy as to take an election with all the names of the voters ready prepared, and arranged in alphabetical order, and posted up before hand at the church-doors? There could arise no disputes Edition: current; Page: [142] at the hustings. There could be no contests about good votes or bad votes. There would be nobody bribed, because no purse would suffice for the purpose. There would be none of those scenes of wickedness which now disgrace elections. The time of the members and of the House would not be wasted in the deciding on election contests. All would be fair, regular, and effectual, and the laws could not fail to be held in veneration, when every man should feel that he himself had had a voice in making them.

The equity of extending the suffrage to every grown-up man is, I think, equally clear. Every man pays taxes. I take the calculation of Mr. Preston, because I would avoid the charge of exaggeration. He states, in his pamphlet, that every labourer, who earns 18l. a year, pays 10l. of it in taxes. It is very certain, that every man pays a large portion of his wages away in taxes; and, as I never have heard it pretended, that the ancient law of the land did not make suffrage go hand in hand with taxation, it appears to me impossible to deny, that every man has, agreeably to that principle, a right to vote for Members of Parliament.

And then, my Lord, there is the military duty. Every man able to bear arms, has been made liable to serve as a soldier; to submit to martial law; to submit to military discipline; to leave his home, his parents, his wife, and, in some cases, his children; to quit his trade or calling; and, if it were necessary, to risk his life. These are not slight sacrifices, my Lord, and you well know to what an extent they have been made by the people of England, Ireland, and Scotland. And for what did they make these sacrifices? For the defence of their country and of the property in the country. Is it too much, then, to allow those who were called upon to make those great sacrifices to have a voice in choosing their representatives in Parliament? Is it safe to trust them with arms in their hands to defend the property of the country, and not safe to trust the sound of their voices in the choosing of those who are to make laws affecting their own lives?

Thus, then, my Lord, we have not only law but reason to offer your lordship in support of what we pray for; and, is it not right to answer us, before abusing us as if we were incendiaries and almost traitors? Besides, it is nothing new that we propose. The same was proposed by the late Duke of Richmond nearly forty years ago. And, so serious and so much in earnest was he upon the subject, that he actually brought a bill into Parliament to make a Reform upon the principles of annual elections and universal suffrage, of which Bill the following were the Title and Preamble:


AN ACT for declaring and restoring the natural undeniable and equal Right of ALL THE COMMONS of Great Britain (infants, persons of insane mind, and criminals incapacitated by law, only excepted) TO VOTE IN the Election of their Representatives in Parliament: For regulating the manner of such Elections: For restoring ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS: For giving an hereditary Seat to the Sixteen Peers which shall be elected for Scotland: And, for establishing more equitable Regulations concerning the Peerage of Scotland.


WHEREAS, the LIFE, LIBERTY, AND PROPERTY, of every man is or may be affected by the law of the land in which he lives, and every man is bound to pay obedience to the same.

And whereas, by the Constitution of this kingdom, the RIGHT OF MAKING laws is vested in three estates of Kings, Lords, and Commons, in Edition: current; Page: [143] Parliament assembled, and the consent of all the three said estates, comprehending the whole community, is necessary to make laws which bind the whole community.

And whereas the House of Commons represents ALL THE COMMONS of the realm, and the consent of the House of Commons binds the consent of all the Commons of the realm, in all cases on which the legislature is competent to decide.

And whereas NO MAN is, or can be, actually represented who hath not a Vote in the election of his Representative.

And whereas it is the RIGHT of EVERY COMMONER of this realm (infants, persons of insane mind, and criminals incapacitated by law, only excepted) to have a vote in the election of the Representative who is to give his consent to the making of laws by which he is to be bound.

And whereas the number of persons who are suffered to vote for electing the members of the House of Commons, do not at this time amount to one-sixth part of the whole Commons of this realm, whereby far the greater part of the said Commons are deprived of their right to elect their Representatives; and the consent of the majority of the whole community to the passing of laws is given by persons whom they have not delegated for such purpose; and the majority of the said community are governed by laws made by a very small part of the said community, and to which the said majority have not in fact consented by themselves, or by their Representatives.

And whereas the state of election of members of the House of Commons, hath, in process of time, so grossly deviated from its simple and natural principle of representation and equality, that in several places the members are returned by the property of one man; that the smallest boroughs send as many members as the largest counties; and that a majority of the representatives of the whole nation are chosen by a number of voters not exceeding twelve thousand.

Now FOR REMEDY of such partial and unequal representation, and of the many mischiefs which have arisen therefrom; and for restoring, asserting, and maintaining the RIGHTS of the COMMONS of this realm, be it declared and enacted, and it is hereby declared and enacted, by the King’s most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same: That every Commoner of this realm (excepting only infants, persons of insane mind, and criminals incapacitated by law), hath a natural, unalienable, and equal right to vote in the election of his Representative in Parliament.

And whereas it was accorded by statute in the fourth year of the reign of King Edward the Third, ‘that a Parliament should be holden every year once, and more often if need be;’ which statute was confirmed by another statute, passed in the 36th year of the reign of the said King Edward the Third; and the practice in ancient times was for writs to issue for the election of a new Parliament every year.

And whereas FREQUENT ELECTIONS are indispensably necessary to enable the Commons to alter and amend the choice of their representatives as they may see occasion; and such elections ought to be as frequent as may be consistent with the use of a representative body; and the ancient practice of annual elections is well calculated for such purpose.

And whereas Triennial and Septennial Parliaments, by rendering the exercise of the right of election less frequent, tend to make the Representatives less dependent on their Constituents, than they always ought to be; and also deprive the Commons for many years after they come of age, of their franchise of electing their own representatives; Be it declared and enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the ELECTION of members to serve in the House of Commons ought to be ANNUAL.

Now, my Lord, the late Duke of Richmond was a man of great talent, wisdom, and of uncommon industry, attention, and knowledge of the customs, manners and dispositions of the people of this country. He had been a soldier, a minister, a member of Parliament; he was a Lord-Lieutenant of a county; as a magistrate and a country gentlemen, as a Edition: current; Page: [144] patron of the industrious and a friend of the distressed; in all these capacities and qualities he was surpassed by very few men that ever lived. This nobleman, whose death was the death of his neighbourhood, co-operated with that very Major Cartwright, of whom your Lordship has spoken so justly, and against whose spotless reputation so many vipers are sending forth their venom. This nobleman what was he? Was he an “evil-minded and designing man?” Was he a deluder, or was he one of the “seduced?” Was he one of those “poor creatures,” as the insolent Perry calls the million of petitioners for Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage? The Duke of Richmond is of himself a great authority as to the law of the case, and what can be more full and clear than his Grace’s title and preamble? Is it not, then, a little too much, my Lord, to treat all those, who now hold the same opinions, as being either “poor, ignorant, deceived creatures;” or as “designing and evil-minded men,” who wish to stir up confusion and produce bloodshed? Did the Duke of Richmond wish to produce confusion and bloodshed? Did he desire to see revolution and destruction?

The Duke is himself a high authority; but, if your Lordship will be pleased to refer to the works of Mr. Granville Sharp, Mr. Baron Maseres, or to another work, lately published by Allman, Prince-street, Hanover-square, entitled, “Common Consent, the Basis of the Constitution of England; or Parliamentary Reform tried by the tests of Law and Reason,” your Lordship will find it proved, that the right of every freeman (that is to say, every man not a bondman) to vote for Members of Parliament, and the right to annual new Parliaments, are birthrights of Englishmen, however contemptuously the idea may be treated by Mr. Perry, under the title of speeches of Mr. Brougham. The publications, here alluded to, that is to say, publications put forth by Mr. Perry, purporting to be speeches recently delivered by Mr. Brougham, and levelled immediately at Lord Cochrane, have contained more bitter attacks on the Reformers than have come from any other quarter. This gentleman has been made to represent Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage as the wildest of nonsense; as “little nostrums and big blunders;” as mischievous in themselves, and as mischievously intended; as put forth by bad men, and sucked in by foolish men.

After this, my Lord, and after many direct personal attacks on Lord Cochrane, in the way above-mentioned, what has been the surprise in London, and what will it be all over the country, at hearing, that Mr. Brougham himself, under his own hand-writing, did most decidedly pledge himself to these very “little nostrums and big blunders!” But, let me clearly state to your Lordship the circumstances under which this decided pledge was given.

About five or six years ago, Mr. Brougham, in a paper which was printed, declared himself hostile to Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage. But in the month of June, 1814, just at the time when Lord Cochrane was expected to be expelled from the House of Commons, and of course, when a vacancy for Westminster was expected to take place, there were certain individuals, who had formed the design of introducing Mr. Brougham to fill his Lordship’s place. But there were other persons, who were resolved to oppose the attempt, unless Mr. Brougham would explicitly declare for Annual Parliaments and for suffrage co-extensive with taxation; and one gentleman, in particular, Mr. Place of Charing-cross, wrote to the friends of Mr. Brougham this determination. Immediately Edition: current; Page: [145] upon this, there was a meeting of the Livery of London, to which Mr. Brougham was invited. At that meeting he made a speech, which speech he, two days afterwards, wrote out in his own hand, which so written out in his own hand, was kept by some persons of the Westminster committee, as the pledge of his principles, and which speech, which I have seen in Mr. Brougham’s own hand-writing, was in the following words; to wit:

“Mr. Brougham returned thanks, and said, that the last time he had met the Livery, two years ago, he had declined making professions or promises, because he saw them so often broken; but had desired the Livery, if it were worth their attention, to mark his conduct, and if it betrayed his declaration, to punish him next time they met by drinking to the memory of his departed principles:—that time was now come, and he met them without any conscientiousness of having forfeited their favour. These two years had been pregnant with important events; and infinitely various as these were, they all agreed in this, that they had mightily redounded to the honour of the cause, and the confirmation of our principles. The fundamental maxim of liberty had been solemnly recognised in the face of the world, that all power is from the people; and that they have a right to choose their government, and dismiss their rulers for misconduct. They had done so in France, and it was a lesson that could not be forgotten in the rest of Europe. The saying that ‘laws are silent in the midst of arms,’ had failed for once; and this fundamental principle had triumphed over the triumphs of the allied armies. So much for the honour of the cause. But the principles of Reform had been assisted also in their progress. Where is now the gag, with which our mouths had for five-and-twenty years been stopped, as often as we have required that Parliaments should be chosen yearly, and that the elective franchise should be extended to all who pay taxes? We have been desired to wait, for the enemy was at the gate, and ready to avail himself of the discords attending our political contests, in order to undermine our national independence. This argument is gone, and our adversaries must now look for another.—He had mentioned the two Radical doctrines of yearly election, and the franchise enjoyed by all paying taxes; but it would be superfluous to reason in favour of them here, where all were agreed upon the subject.—However as elsewhere they may speedily be discussed, he should take leave to suggest a fact, for the use of such as might have occasion to defend their principles. It was one for the truth of which he might appeal to his honourable friend, the Member for Middlesex (Mr. Byng), who knew as well as he did, that there was a great improvement always observable in the conduct of the House of Commons, towards the last year of a Parliament; insomuch, that he had heard it observed, that more good was done in that year, than in all the other five or six. The reason of all this he should not presume to state; but some persons were of so suspicious a nature, as to insinuate, that it might be the knowledge of the members, that at the end of that session they must meet their constituents, such of them as had any, and give an account of their trust. He avowed that this fact had been one of the chief grounds of his conviction of the expediency of yearly elections: and if any one thought this unsafe, he should answer, that such frequent recurrence and such extension of the franchise as should accompany it, is the best check upon profligate expense. If any other check was wanting, it might be provided also. He had talked of such members as had constituents, being reminded of it by the manner in which the toast had been given out by a mistake—he hoped not an ominous one. It had been said, ‘a full, fair, and free representation in Parliament,’ leaving out ‘the People.’ Now this is just what is done elsewhere. There is ‘a full, fair, and free representation in Parliament’—we need not drink to that. There is a full representation of the aristocracy—a fair representation of the landed interest—a free representation—a free ingress of the Court,—but not much representation of the people—they are left out, as they were to-day. It must, however, be otherwise soon. While they bear the burdens of the State, they must, as of right, share in its government; and to effect this reform, all good men must now unite. He lamented the absence of his friends now detained elsewhere; but he knew they would come, the moment their duty permitted. Messrs. Whitbread, Brand, Creevey, Bennet, Grattan, Lord Ossulston, Edition: current; Page: [146] Lord A. Hamilton, he knew, were most anxious to join the meeting. What they were now about he could not precisely say; but he guessed they were not supporting the Court at that particular moment.”

Strange, my Lord, is it not? And is it not a pity, that this gentleman should have been exhibited to the world by his friend, Mr. Perry, as calling Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage “little nostrums and big blunders?”

But, I have not yet finished the history of the Westminster Seat-scheme. That scheme was put aside in 1814, by that sense of justice and that high sentiment, which led the people of Westminster to re-elect Lord Cochrane, though he had been expelled by the House of Commons, and the good effects of that re-election they and the whole country now feel. But though frustrated for this time, the connection was carefully kept up with some persons in Westminster; and, at a meeting in Palace-yard, about a year ago, upon the subject of the Property-tax, a regular plan was laid, in concert with himself, for introducing Mr. Brougham to the people of that city. He was so introduced; but, it falling to the lot of Mr. Hunt to speak before the part of Mr. Brougham came to be performed, the former gentleman so prepared the way for the latter, that he thought it prudent to withdraw, and magnanimously to forego the sort of applause which awaited his debut. Mr. Brougham, upon being afterwards reminded of this sudden retreat by Lord Castlereagh, said that he did not intend to speak at the meeting, he not being an inhabitant of Westminster. I have it not under his own hand, indeed, that he did intend to speak at the meeting, but a gentleman, on whose word I can rely, assures me, that Mr. Brougham (though not an inhabitant of Westminster), did attend at a previous select meeting where the resolutions were prepared, and that it was at that meeting settled that he should speak upon one of the resolutions.

Frightened away from his game here, the gentleman does not seem, however, to have wholly abandoned the chase; for, at a dinner, on the 23rd of May last, at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, at which dinner I was, the name of Mr. Brougham was inserted in the List of Toasts immediately after the names of the two Members for the City. I, seeing this name so placed, and finding Major Cartwright’s name at nearly the bottom of the list, intimated to the stewards, that, unless Major Cartwright’s name was placed before that of Mr. Brougham, I would oppose the toast; and that this alteration was made accordingly. Nor did I stop here, for I read to the company at dinner a paper, the purport of which was, that if a vacancy in Westminster should happen, Major Cartwright, and no other man, ought to be the person to fill it, and one of the objects of which paper was well known to be, to guard the City against the schemes and intrigues which had long been going on in favour of Mr. Brougham. At this dinner, and coming with views similar to my own, was Mr. Hunt; and, one of the committee told that gentleman and me, that though Mr. Brougham had by letter, said that he would be at the dinner, he had left word, that if Mr. Hunt came, information should be sent to him of it. We were also told, that such information had been sent to Mr. Brougham; and, in about half an hour afterwards, came an apology from Mr. Brougham, saying that he could not attend on account of his duty in the House of Commons, a motion of Sir Samuel Romilly’s being just about to come out!

I will leave your Lordship to judge in what degree these transactions Edition: current; Page: [147] may have given rise to those bitter reproaches, which have been cast on the “little nostrums and big blunders” of the “designing and evil-minded” leaders of the “poor, deluded, duped creatures of Reformers;” and also, in what degree these transactions may have tended to draw forth the imputations cast on the “prompters” and “abettors” of Lord Cochrane. But, I must beg your Lordship well to note the fact, that, in May last, Mr. Brougham’s hopes as to Westminster were completely destroyed; and, I will leave your Lordship to judge if you can, as to the precise time when the mind of this gentleman returned to its old state of dislike to Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage.

Your Lordship knows, that the above inserted manuscript speech of Mr. Brougham, was read in the House of Commons by Lord Cochrane on Monday last; and his Lordship did this, as he does every thing, in an open and manly manner, and also with great ability and effect. The answer of Mr. Brougham has been published by Mr. Perry, in these words:

“It had often been observed, and indeed with great justice, that there was not perhaps, a more painful and irksome situation, than where a man was obliged to speak of himself. In proportion to that painful situation, and in compassion to it, the indulgence of the House had always been extended, and he hoped it would be so on the present occasion. (Hear, hear! from all sides of the House.) He trusted it would not, however, be thought that he was courting anxiously an opportunity of going into detail, or that on the contrary he wished to avoid such details, for he felt it his duty to say, that he expressed his warmest thanks to the noble Lord for the frank and open manner in which he had afforded him the opportunity of going into the subject. A more groundless aspersion had, he believed, never been brought forward against any individual. He did not accuse the noble Lord, however, or those out of doors, who had put the brief into his hands, of uttering any falsehood in the statement which had just been submitted to the House, but he decidedly accused them of rashness and imprudence, and of not waiting for only a few days longer, when they would have had a full and fair opportunity of hearing his opinions on this most momentous and important subject, and then they would have found whether he was or was not inconsistent. (Hear, hear, hear.) Had those out of doors, whose tool the noble Lord was, but waited those few days, they would then have known what his real sentiments on the question were, having, as the House well knew, reserved to himself the right of then speaking what he felt on the subject. (Hear, hear.) How then could the noble Lord, how could they in whose hands he is, presume to know what were the opinions he (Mr. B.) had formed on this most interesting question? How do they know that he would not have stated his opinion then in the very terms which had just been read? That they should have ascertained his sentiments was a moral impossibility. (Hear, hear.) But the noble Lord had given a mis-statement of what took place, and he should now endeavour to give the House the particulars of the case. A dinner was given at the London Tavern to the friends of Parliamentary Reform, at which he (Mr. B.) attended, with his friend the Member for Middlesex, with the late truly respected and much-lamented Member for the town of Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), with the Member for Hertfordshire (Mr. Brand), and the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Bennet). In the course of what passed there, some observations fell from him similar to what had been read by the noble Lord. The chief motive he had in correcting what he had there stated, was to prevent the possibility of his words on this dangerous and yet important question being misrepresented. He then said, or at least meant to be understood as saying, what he still maintained, that it was consonant to the genius and spirit of the Constitution and expedient in every sense of the word, that the power of elections should be limited to those who paid direct taxes. He corrected what he had said on the subject, as he was aware of the mistakes of reporters. He again repeated, and wished it to be understood, that what he then said the same he now maintained, viz. that the payment of direct taxes ought to be the limit of the elective franchise. He did not wish to compete with the noble Lord, but this was his meaning when he so spoke. He should wish to say one word Edition: current; Page: [148] upon what had been said respecting his advocating the cause of a moderate and gradual Reform. Six years ago it would be remembered he had repeatedly said, both within and without the House, that it would be proper for those who wished for Annual Parliaments to unite with those who were more moderate, and thus secure a footing. There was no reason for their stopping short, and he did not hold it to be inconsistent in the friends of Annual Parliaments to unite with the more moderate Reformers, and to obtain, in the first instance, a beginning. This was the opinion he then held, and he had never deviated from it. The noble Lord was much mistaken when he supposed that the mere production of a speech delivered by him (Mr. B.) at a tavern, would make him swerve from the line of duty merely from the foolish and childish desire of keeping up an appearance of consistency. If he supposed him (Mr. B.) to do so, he was much mistaken. The House had heard him declare his intention to reserve his right of being heard, when the question was brought fully under the consideration of the House, and he could only add, that he would still reserve to himself that right uninfluenced by any thing the noble Lord had said. He again repeated, that when he spoke of the extension of suffrage, it should be to those who had paid direct taxes only, for he never dreamt of it going further. As to the miserable motives alleged to have actuated him, as if he could prostitute himself at one time to deliver opinions which were not the sentiments of his heart for the purpose of being carried into the House on the shoulders of a rabble (hear, hear), and at another time to bend to prejudices he might have to contend with in the House, all he should say was, that he treated such charges with the contempt they deserved. The only pain he felt, was when he contemplated the folly and the madness of some wild theorists, and the base expedients and false practices they made use of to divide the people from the Constitution, merely to gratify party purposes and to compass objects in which the good of the country was neglected, while the interests of one or two individuals was the all in all. (Hear, hear, hear.) This gave him more pain than all the noble Lord had said or could say. (Hear.)”

There needs little comment. The calling of Lord Cochrane “a tool” in the hands of others; the calling the paper a “groundless aspersion;” the “warmest thanks” to his Lordship for bringing forward such aspersion; the “contempt” expressed at the imputation of the “miserable motive” for making the pledge; the disdain expressed at the idea of a desire to be “carried to the House on the shoulders of a RABBLE;” the assertion about the folly and madness of some wild theorists, who were making use of base expedients and false practices to divide the people from the Constitution for the mere private interests of one or two individuals: All these, my Lord, shall pass for what they are worth; and, I fancy, the full value of them will be found in the pity of a nation, naturally good-natured, and never prone to triumph over a fallen adversary.

But, as to the two great points; Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage, what explanation is here given? Why, as to the first, as to Annual Parliaments no explanation at all. Indeed it was utterly impossible. Ingenuity equal to that of Lord Peter in the Tale of a Tub could not have got rid of that point. And, what is suffrage co-extensive with taxation; what is that short of universal suffrage, when every human creature in the country pays heavy taxes? Oh! says Mr. Brougham, but I meant “direct taxes.” Meant! Why did you not say so then? Meant! You meant what you said, to be sure; and so it was understood unquestionably. Besides, my Lord, be pleased to consider the occasion of writing this famous paper. It was the gentleman’s creed; it was his political confession of faith. Lawyers are not apt to be careless in their use of words; they are not very much in the habit of leaving their meaning dubious from a desire to abbreviate. And, upon an occasion like the one here mentioned, was it likely that the gentleman would deliberately, after two days of reflection, put upon paper that which he did not mean? Edition: current; Page: [149] Yet it is not of the change of opinion, though under such peculiar circumstances, that any reasonable man will find fault; it is, as Lord Cochrane truly said, the attacks on those who now entertain the same opinions; the charges of wildness, madness, mischievousness, of evil designs and base motives, preferred against those persons, and the abuse heaped upon them (in the Chronicle Speeches), under the name of Mr. Brougham, day after day. This was too much for flesh and blood to bear, and the noble Lord had resented it in a most able, manly and effectual manner. “A few days!” The gentlemen who held the pledge, were to wait a few days, till Mr. Brougham should declare his sentiments? What sentiments? He had declared that those who proposed Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage, were deluders, and those who listened to them were deluded; he had called these propositions, “little nostrums and big blunders;” he had spoken of the promoters of the petitions as wild, mad, mischievous men. Was not this a pretty full declaration of his sentiments? What more were the holders of the pledge to wait for?

I am not sorry to perceive, however, that the learned gentleman received, in the hour of his altered tone, the kind condolence of his friends. Mr. Brand is reported to have said, “that his learned friend had vindicated—he ought rather to say he had completely repelled the uncalled-for and undeserved attack that had been levelled at him.” Mr. Littleton went still further, as appears from the report; for he “not only thought that his learned friend had completely vindicated himself, but said that he (Mr. Littleton) was quite ready to share in any odium that might attach to his honourable and learned friend for his conduct on this important question.” Upon which I can only say, my Lord, that I envy the gentleman his generosity rather than his taste.

Now then, my Lord, what is the sum and substance of all that I have, to your great fatigue, I am afraid, submitted to the consideration of your Lordship? Why, it is this: that there are both law and reason on the side of Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage; that this plan of reform has actually been, within these forty years, brought before Parliament, in the shape of a Bill, by one of the first peers of the realm; and that those who have been the most harsh in their censure of the present Reformers, were, a very little while ago, the most decided advocates for this very plan of reform.

We contend, that we are right. We may, nevertheless, be wrong; but we want fact and argument to convince us of our errors, and shall never be convinced by abuse. We shall never be convinced by the Sinecure Placemen, who write in the Quarterly Review, and who actually propose the silencing of us by force. In short, my Lord, they use these infamous words: “The press may combat the press in ordinary times and upon ordinary topics; a measure of finance, for instance, or the common course of politics, or a point of theology. But in seasons of great agitation, on those momentous subjects in which the peace and security of society, nay the very existence of social order itself is involved, it is absurd to suppose, that the healing will come from the same weapon as the wound.” Then, after saying that the people receive my Journal “with entire faith; that it serves them for law and for gospel, for their creed and their ten commandments; that they talk by it and swear by it; that they are ready to live by it, and to die Edition: current; Page: [150] by it.” After this, these writers propose, that it should be put down by force of law, and they must mean new law too.

Can your Lordship form an idea of any thing more foul, more base than this? If the people do swear by my little book, they must, I hope, be in the right way; for never did any man more sedulously propagate precepts of peace, harmony, patience, fortitude, and obedience to the laws. I do feel proud, I must feel proud, at the wonderful extent of my writings; but I feel much more proud in the reflection, that those writings; without appealing to the low passions of men, but relying for success on the force of truth and reason, have greatly tended to enlighten the understandings of the people, and thereby to prevent those violences which have always heretofore, in this country and in all other countries, been the inseparable companions of great national misery. Your Lordship has truly observed, that the conduct of the people is meritorious beyond all example. Indeed, the spectacle of probably four millions of people having, at different places, met in large bodies to petition on the subject of grievances, without a single riot or act of violence, is one of the most grand as well as most affecting, that ever presented itself to the mind of man; and, it is so honourable to our national character, that we must hate and abhor the wretch, who calls himself an Englishman, and who can see it without delight. Yet, these Sinecure Placemen of the Quarterly Review, would have an imprimatur, a prohibition, enacted against the writings, which, above all others, have contributed towards the producing of this most admirable effect.

Your Lordship has heard enough about the libellous bill posted up against Mr. Hunt; you have read also of a placard, posted up to excite riot at the last Spa-fields Meeting, and from the examinations before the Lord Mayor, you have seen that placard traced to its source. I could prove, that a posting-bill against me was issued out, in the hands of five bill-stickers, from the Courier Office, to be stuck up in the dead of night, and that some of these people, having been taken into custody by the watch, were released by the constable of the night upon their telling him who were their employers. What can your Lordship, what can any honourable man, think of these transactions?

Is it my Lord, inflammatory matter that I have here been doing myself the honour of addressing your Lordship? Yet of this very stamp have all my writings been for many years past. The subjects that I treat of, and of which to treat is my taste and my delight, are all of a nature to produce thinking, and to call forth the reasoning faculties of the mind. How much have we heard of plans, and how many hundreds of thousands of pounds have we seen expended, in order to enlighten the people! And, if this be really the object of the promoters of those plans, what praise, is not due from them to me, who am endeavouring to communicate to the people at large all that I have acquired from a life of application and experience; who am, in short, endeavouring to take one head, full of useful knowledge, and to clap it safe and sound upon every pair of shoulders in the kingdom?

“The race that write,” are my, Lord, but too generally speaking, full of envy. The partiality of mothers for their children is a trifling weakness, compared to that of authors for their works; and, in both cases, the partiality is usually strong in proportion to the worthlessness of its Edition: current; Page: [151] object; because parental fondness steps forward as a compensation for the neglect or contempt or hatred of the world. But, unhappy authors, not content with blindly doating on their own unsuccessful progeny, always endeavour to avenge their disappointments and shame on those of a different description. This is the case, at this moment, with the Quarterly Reviewers, and with many, many others! They would tear me to pieces for writing; they would tear the people to pieces for reading; they would chop off my hand, and pluck out the people’s eyes; and, this, or something very near to this, they, or somebody else, must do, before I shall cease to write, or the people cease to read.

This very moment a Second Edition of the Courier comes kindly to inform me, that the Green Bag has brought forth, amongst other things, a report relative to “the publication of inflammatory and seditious works at a CHEAP rate, the end and intention of which is to root out all feelings of religion and morality, and to excite a hatred and contempt for the EXISTING STATE OF THINGS.” Ah, ah! Say you so! Well! But are there not plenty of laws already for the punishment of seditious writings, and also of irreligious and immoral writings? Oh, yes! My work cannot be meant, then! Yet there is that ugly word CHEAP! Why, in the name of goodness, dislike cheap publications? I thought that all the kind, all the benevolent, all the religious, all the moral, all the philanthropic, all the good, dear Bible and Religious Tract Societies, were endeavouring, by all the means in their power, to send forth CHEAP publications. What! It surely cannot be an objection to a publication, that it is CHEAP! How are the people to get at reading, if they cannot have it CHEAP? These CHEAP publications do, it seems, according to the Courier’s account of the Green Bag, tend to excite a hatred and contempt for the EXISTING STATE OF THINGS. This is a very large phrase. If it had said for the King, for the Parliament, for the Lords, for the Church, for the Laws, there would have been a clear meaning; but, the existing state of things may mean Sinecures, Pensions, Grants, Standing Army, a certain mode of getting Seats, it may mean the Pauperism and Misery that now overspread this formerly happy country. However, my Lord, if a law were to be passed against CHEAP publications, I can assure your Lordship, that no general classification would hide the real object. All the people in England would understand most clearly what was meant. But, my Lord, nothing short of a TOTAL BREAKING UP OF THE PRESS could sever the people of England from my writings. If a law were passed to make my writings of high price, the people would club their twopences to get at them, and they would value them the more, and seek them with more avidity, on account of what they could not but regard as a prohibition. Whether any attempt of the sort will be made is more than I can say; but, of one thing I am very sure, that nothing short of a direct imprimatur; nothing short of a censorship; that is to say, nothing short of the Government having the power to examine works before they be printed, and to forbid their being printed if it chooses; nothing short of this, will, can, or shall, keep my writings from the eyes of my suffering countrymen. More than a MILLION of my little books have been sold within the last six months; and, though the people are tormented with the gnawings of starvation; though this is acknowledged and proclaimed in Parliament as well as out, not one riot, not a single breach of the peace, has occurred at any of those numerous and multitudinous Edition: current; Page: [152] assemblages, where the principles of my little book have been held forth and acted on.—Hundreds of gentlemen are ready to attest, that it is their firm belief, that the exemplary patience and fortitude of the people and the consequent peace of the country are to be, in a great degree, ascribed to the influence of this little book; and, yet, in the face of all this—but, it is useless to talk; nothing short of an imprimatur will, can, or shall keep my writings from the eyes of my suffering and faithful countrymen, who will, I have no doubt, in many places, send up petitions in time against any such measure.

In the full conviction, that your Lordship will hold in abhorrence all these attempts at foul play, and in the anxious hope, that you will do me the honour to lend your patient attention to what I have here written,

I am, with the greatest respect,
Your Lordship’s most obedient servant,


The Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act.—The Sedition Bills.—The Petition of Mr. Cleary.—The Petition of Mr. Hunt.—The Defence of Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage by the Duke of Richmond.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
25th February, 1817
Countrymen and Friends,

Before this Letter will reach your hands, Acts of Parliament of the most tremendous importance to us all will probably be passed, such Acts being at this moment before the House of Commons in the shape of Bills; from which shape they are changed into laws in a few days, and which laws most deeply affect our liberties and lives.

I will first explain clearly what the Habeas Corpus Act is. You all know that, according to the laws of our country, no man can be sent to any prison until he has been brought before a Magistrate; and then the Edition: current; Page: [153] Magistrate cannot send him to prison unless there be evidence upon oath against the accused party, nor until the accused party be made fully acquainted with the nature of his alleged crime, and has been heard in his defence, and confronted, or placed face to face with his accuser before the Magistrate. Then, when the man is, after all this, sent to prison, there must be a written warrant of commitment sent with him; and in that warrant the nature of the man’s alleged crime must be clearly expressed.

This is this law of the land, and most excellent is the law; for if a man could be seized and sent to prison without these precautions, who would be safe? And, in order that this most necessary law may be duly attended to, there is another law for preventing any neglect of the observance of all these matters; and this law is usually called the Habeas Corpus Act. It is so called because the writ, which I shall speak of presently, begins with these two latin words, Habeas Corpus. This Act enables any man who may be put into any prison, or confined in any manner, to apply to a Judge for what is called a writ, or command to bring such man before the Judge, that the Judge may hear his complaint; and then the Judge, if he finds that the man has been sent to prison, or confined, without all the necessary evidence and forms before-mentioned, is obliged to order the prisoner to be discharged; and the prisoner may then prosecute the persons who have imprisoned him, or kept him shut up, though it be only for a short space of time.

Now, you will see how valuable, how precious a part, this is of our laws. This Act of Parliament is justly called the Personal Safety Act; for, without it, as you will clearly see, no man’s person is safe, except accidentally; for, if Magistrates, or any body else, can take up any man they choose, and send him to prison without evidence upon oath, without his being heard in his defence, without his being confronted with his accuser’s, without a written warrant stating the nature of his offence, without any limit of time, and without being able to get a writ to be brought out before a judge to have the cause of his imprisonment inquired into; if this be the case, what man can possibly regard his person as being in safety? And, my countrymen, this is the state, in which every man of us must be placed by the SUSPENSION OF THE HABEAS CORPUS ACT, that is to say, by making that Act of no force, while the suspension lasts, and by enabling the Ministers to imprison, and to keep in prison, any body that they shall think proper.

Amongst all the excellent provisions of the laws of England, those which provide for the perfect safety of our persons are the most valuable. It is, indeed, principally owing to these provisions, that this Government has been so much boasted of in comparison with the governments on the Continent of Europe, where men are taken up, crammed into prisons, and remain sometimes for years, without ever being told their crime, and, sometimes, without their relations and friends ever knowing what is become of them. This was the case in France before the Revolution, and it may be the case again now for what I know. It was the case in Spain and in all countries where the Inquisition existed. A man, woman, any body, is taken up, put into prison and there kept as long as the persons in power choose! In the case of the Inquisition the wives or children of unfortunate creatures, so seized, do not dare so much as to inquire after the husband or father. They go into mourning, and Edition: current; Page: [154] always speak of the poor wretch as being dead! In France, there was one particular prison, called the Bastile in which wretched victims of power used to be confined; and Mr. Arthur Young, who is the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture in London, relates in his account of the causes of the French Revolution, that a Scotchman had been confined in this Bastile for more than twenty years, without ever having been told for what he was confined! He says, that he was forgotten; and that it was by mere accident, that he was at last released at the request of an English Ambassador. People used to be confined in this cruel manner in virtue of what was called a Lettre de Cachet, that is to say, a Secret Letter, in which the devoted victim was merely named and ordered to be shut up. Mr. Young tells us, that this was carried to such a length, that these Secret Letters were, at last, actually sold in the reign of Louis XV. to any individuals who would pay a sufficient sum for one of them; so that, any rich man, or woman, who had a spite against another man, or woman, might get such person shut up in a cold prison for any length of time.

I am not supposing, that things will ever be carried to this length in England, or to any thing like this length. I will say, too, that I do not believe, that any one wishes to see us reduced to this state of intolerable slavery, degradation and infamy. But, the suspension, even for a day, of this valuable, this sacred law, is so serious a matter, that, really, it is a subject fit to make the whole nation put on crape, sackcloth and ashes. Before I go any further, I beg you to attend to what Mr. Blackstone, who was a Judge, has written upon this law of Habeas Corpus, or personal safety.—

“Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty: for if once it were left in the power of any, the highest magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper (as in France it is daily practised by the Crown,) there would soon be an end to all other rights and immunities. Some have thought, that unjust attacks, even upon life, or property, at the arbitrary will of the magistrate are less dangerous to the commonwealth, than such as are made upon the personal liberty of the subject. To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom. But confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to gaol, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government. And yet sometimes, when the State is in real danger, even this may be a necessary measure. But the happiness of our Constitution is, that it is not left to the executive power to determine when the danger of the State is so great as to render this measure expedient. For the Parliament only, or legislative power, whenever it sees proper, can authorize the Crown, by suspending the Habeas Corpus Act for a short and limited time, to imprison suspected persons without giving any reason for so doing; as the senate of Rome was wont to have recourse to a dictator, a magistrate of absolute authority, when they judged the republic in any imminent danger. The decree of the senate, which usually preceded the nomination of this magistrate, ‘Dent operam consulles, nequid respublica detrimenti capiat,’ was called the ‘senatus consultum ultimæ necessitatis.’ In like manner this experiment ought only to be tried in cases of extreme emergency; and in these the nation parts with its liberty for awhile, in order to preserve it for ever.”

Now, then, the question is, whether such case of “extreme emergency” does now exist. You have read, in the public papers, the Reports of the Secret Committees of the two Houses, upon which this Suspension Bill Edition: current; Page: [155] is founded. When the Bill was introduced in the Lords by Lord Sidmouth, he expressed his great pain, and his shame for his country, at thinking it his duty to do it, and deep pain was also expressed by Lord Castlereagh, who introduced it into the Lower House. It is impossible not to believe them sincere upon this point; for, good God! what a thing it is to think of! At the end of a twenty-five years’ war against revolutionary principles, to come, in this most solemn manner, to a declaration, that this most tremendous measure is absolutely necessary to the preservation of the English Government, that Government, which has so many thousand times been called “the admiration and the envy of the world,” and which, in its full scope and powers, without any adulteration, really is worthy of the admiration of the world! For the American Government, though its form and name are different from those of ours, is really, in substance, the same as to its laws. There is Magna Charta, there is the Bill of Rights, and there is the sacred Act of Habeas Corpus; and, a circumstance which I, as an Englishman, used to be monstrously proud of when I was in America, was, that one of the State Constitutions consists principally, and almost solely, of the declaration, that “the good people of this State shall enjoy the laws of England;” and, in every one of their wise constitutions special care has been provided, that the law called Habeas Corpus shall be regarded as the birthright of the people, and shall be held sacred accordingly.

I have no room at present to say more upon this subject. I am fully convinced that the Ministers have been deceived by designing persons, and that they think that dangers exist, which do not exist. The silly Spenceans have been going on with their nonsense for more than ten years. Their notions are foolishness itself. There are other Bills about to be passed, one for the better protection of the Prince’s person; another for preventing public-meetings, unless called by sheriffs, magistrates, or persons in authority; and another for the putting down of clubs and associations; and another to punish with death all attempts to seduce soldiers from their allegiance and duty. With respect to the first and last of these, I hope they are wholly unnecessary. With regard to the preventing of public meetings, that appears to me to be also unnecessary and a lamentable curtailment of our rights; and with regard to clubs and associations, I do not see where the prevention is to stop. We have Pitt clubs, whig clubs, clubs to suppress vice, clubs to detect and punish thieves, bible clubs, school clubs, benefit clubs, methodist clubs, Hampden clubs, Spencean clubs, military clubs, naval clubs, gaming clubs, eating clubs, drinking clubs, masters’ clubs, journeymen’s clubs, and a thousand other sorts of clubs and associations. Be this as it may, however, you, my readers, will know that I have always not only not recommended any sort of clubs or societies, but that I have always most earnestly endeavoured to persuade the public that clubs OF ALL SORTS were of mischievous tendency in general, and, in no possible case, could be productive of good. The reasons, on which this opinion is founded have often been stated by me; and, since the question of reform has been so much agitated, I have taken particular pains to endeavour to discourage all sorts of combinations, associations, affiliations, and correspondencies of societies having that object in view; and I have said, upon these occasions, that if the object were not to be obtained by the general, free, unpacked unbiassed, impression and expression of the public mind, it never could be, and never ought be obtained at all. That is still my opinion.

Edition: current; Page: [156]

The subjoined Petitions on the subject of the Reports I beg you to read with attention; and, if any doubt can yet remain in the mind of any human being, as to the law or the fitness of Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage, that doubt must, I think, be removed by the incomparable letter of the Duke of Richmond. Let it be recollected, too, that this famous letter was addressed to a Colonel of Volunteers to be communicated to whole bodies of Volunteers, and that, a Convention of Delegates, from all the Counties in Ireland, met to promote reform upon the very principles of this letter! Nay, it is a fact, that Lord Castlereagh himself came first into Parliament upon a test to promote parliamentary reform. Mr. Pitt was a reformer, his father was a reformer; and, are we now to be told, that we aim at the utter “subversion of the Constitution,” because we ask for a reform upon the principles of this memorable and matchless letter of the Duke of Richmond? And are we, who write as I write, to be called little short of traitors, because we, in a strain of sober arguments, endeavour to maintain these same principles, and give our reasons for believing, that, by acting upon these principles, the miseries of our unhappy country would be the more speedily and effectually changed into a state of prosperity and happiness? Oh, no! A love of truth and of fair play, so natural to all mankind; reason, justice, human nature itself, all cry aloud, no, no, no!


P. S. There is to be a County Meeting at Winchester, on the 11th of March, called by the Sheriff. I hope that every Hampshire man, who can possibly go, will go to that meeting, at which I shall certainly be, if I am alive, as well as Lord Cochrane, who has signed a Requisition for it.

Thomas Cleary
Cleary, Thomas

To the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled.

The Petition of Thomas Cleary,* Secretary to the London Union Society,

Humbly sheweth,—

That it is with great reluctance, as well as humility, that your petitioner offers himself to the notice of, and prays for a hearing from your right honourable House; but that your petitioner, though a very humble individual, feels himself impelled by a sense of imperious duty, to beseech your right honourable House to pause, and to hear further evidence, before your right honourable House proceed to adopt legislative measures upon the Report, now on the table of your right honourable House, from your late Secret Committee.

Your petitioner begs permission humbly to state to your right honourable House, that he has read in the afore-mentioned Report of the Secret Committee of your Lordships, the following passage; to wit:

“Others of these Societies are called Union Clubs, professing the same object of Parliamentary Reform, but under these words understanding Edition: current; Page: [157] Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments—projects which evidently involve not any qualified or partial change, but a total subversion of the British Constitution. It appears that there is a London Union Society, and branch Unions corresponding with it, and affiliated to it. Others of these Societies have adopted the name of Spencean Philanthropists; and it was by members of a club of this description that the plans of the conspirators in London were discussed and prepared for execution.”

Your petitioner presumes not to oppose his opinions against those of a Committee of your right honourable House; but, he hopes, that he may be humbly permitted to state, that, when a bill was brought before your right honourable House by the late Duke of Richmond, laying it down as a matter of principle, that Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage were the inherent and unalienable rights of Englishmen, the noble Duke was not accused of a desire to produce a total subversion of the British Constitution.

It is not, however, on matters of opinion, but on matters of most important fact, that your petitioner humbly appeals to the candour, the wisdom and the justice of your right honourable House, and on matters of fact, too, with regard to which your petitioner is able to submit to your right honourable House the clearest and most indubitable testimony.

Your petitioner’s entire ignorance of the views of the Secret Committee of your right honourable House, as well as his profound respect and extreme deference for every thing done within the walls of your right honourable House, are more than sufficient to restrain your petitioner from attempting even to guess at the reasons for your Committee’s having so closely connected the “London Union Society,” with the Societies of “Spencean Philanthropists;” but, your petitioner humbly begs leave to assure your Lordships, that he is ready and able to prove at the Bar of your Lordships, that there never has existed, between these Societies, the smallest connection of any sort, either in person or design, the object of the former being to obtain “a Parliamentary Reform, according to the Constitution,” while that of the latter, as appears by the Report of your Lordships’ Committee, has been to obtain a common partnership in the land: and that, therefore, any evidence which may have been laid before the Secret Committee of your Lordships to establish this connection, is, as your petitioner is ready to prove at the bar of your Lordships, wholly destitute of truth.

But, the facts to which your petitioner is most anxious humbly to endeavour to obtain the patient attention of your right hon. House, relate to that affiliation and correspondence, which your Lordships’ Secret Committee have been pleased to impute to the London Union Society, by observing that “it appears that there is a London Union Society, and Branch Unions, corresponding with it, and affiliated to it;” a description which seems, in the humble conception of your petitioner, to resemble that which was given of the London Corresponding Society in 1795, and which, as your petitioner humbly conceives, point to measures of a nature similar to those which were then adopted; and your petitioner, though with all humility, ventures to express his confidence, that the evidence which he doubts not has been produced to your Lordships’ Secret Committee to justify this description, is wholly and entirely false, as your petitioner is ready to prove, in the most satisfactory manner, at the bar of your right honourable House.

Edition: current; Page: [158]

Upon this important point your petitioner humbly begs leave to represent to your right honourable House, that the London Union Society was founded in 1812 by Mr. Edward Bolton Clive, Mr. Walter Fawkes, the late Colonel Bosville, Mr. Montague Burgoyne, the present Lord Mayor, Mr. Alderman Goodbehere, Mr. Francis Canning, Mr. William Hallett, Sir Francis Burdett, Major Cartwright, Mr. Robert Slade, Mr. Timothy Brown, Mr. F. J. Clarke, and several other individuals equally respectable; that it continued to hold meetings but a very short time; that it never did any act except the publishing of one address to the nation on the subject of Reform; that it never had any one “branch;” that it never held any correspondence either written or verbal with any Society of any sort; that it never was affiliated to any society or branch or any body of men whatsoever; finally, that it has not even met for nearly three years and a half last past; and, of course, that it is not now in existence.

What, then, must have been the surprise and the pain of your humble petitioner, when he saw, in the Report of your Lordships’ Secret Committee, this London Union Society represented, not only as still being in existence, but busily and extensively at work, establishing branches and affiliations, carrying on an active correspondence, infusing life into Societies of Spencean Philanthropists, and producing, by these means, plans of conspiracy, revolution and treason! And, though your petitioner is too well assured of the upright views and of the justice of every Committee consisting of members of your noble and right honourable House not to be convinced that very strong evidence in support of these charges must have been produced to your Lordships’ Secret Committee, your petitioner cannot, nevertheless, refrain from expressing most humbly his deep regret that your Lordships’ Committee should not have deigned to send for the books and other testimonials of the character and proceedings of the London Union Society; and your petitioner humbly begs leave to observe, that this omission appears singularly unfortunate for the London Union Society, seeing that the Secret Committee of your Lordships appear, in another part of their Report, to lament the want of means of obtaining the written proceedings of Societies, and seeing that it was natural to expect, that a Society having branches, an affiliation and an active correspondence, had also a copious collection of written documents.

Your petitioner is aware, that he has trespassed too long on the patience of your Lordships; but, well knowing that your Lordship’s seek only for truth as the basis of your proceedings, he humbly hopes that you will be pleased to excuse the earnestness of his present representation, and he also presumes humbly to express his hope, that your Lordships will be pleased, in your great tenderness for the character and liberties of his Majesty’s faithful subjects, to consider whether it be not possible that your Secret Committee may have been misled, by what they may have deemed good evidence, as to other parts of their secret Report; and, at the least, your petitioner humbly prays that your Lordships will, in your great condescension, be pleased to permit your petitioner to produce all the books and papers of the London Union Society at the bar of your right honourable House, where your petitioner confidently assures your Lordships that he is ready to prove all and singular the allegations contained in this his most humble petition.

And your petitioner will ever pray,
Thomas Cleary.
Edition: current; Page: [159]
Henry Hunt
Hunt, Henry

To the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The Petition of Henry Hunt, of Middleton Cottage, in the County of Southampton,

Humbly Sheweth,—

That your petitioner, who had the honour to be the mover of the petitions at the recent Meetings held in Spa-fields, one of which petitions has been received by his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, and two of which petitions have been presented to, and received by, the honourable the House of Commons, has read, in the public prints, a paper entitled a Report of the Secret Committee of your right honourable House, and which Report appears to your petitioner, as far as his humble powers of disentanglement have enabled him to analyse the same, to submit to your right honourable House, as solemn truths, the following assertions; to wit:

  • 1. That the first public meeting in Spa-fields, which had for its ostensible object, a petition for relief and Reform, was closely connected with, and formed part of, a conspiracy to produce an insurrection for the purpose of overthrowing the Government.
  • 2. That Spa-fields was fixed upon as the place of assembling, on account of its vicinity to the Bank and the Tower; and that, for this same reason, “care was taken to adjourn the meeting to the 2d of December, by which time it was hoped that preparations for the insurrection would be fully matured.”
  • 3. That, at this second Meeting, flags, banners, and all the ensigns of insurrection were displayed, and that, finally, an insurrection was began by persons collected in the Spa-fields, and that notwithstanding the ultimate object was then frustrated, the same designs still continued to be prosecuted with sanguine hopes of success.
  • 4. That a large quantity of pike-heads had been ordered of one individual, and that 250 had actually been made and paid for.
  • 5. That Delegates from Hampden Clubs in the Country have met in London, and that they are expected to meet again in March.

That, as to the first of these assertions, as your petitioner possesses no means of ascertaining the secret thoughts of men, he cannot pretend to assert, that none of the persons, with whom the calling of the first Spa-fields Meeting originated, had no views of a riotous or revolutionary kind; but be humbly conceives, that a simple narrative of facts will be more than sufficient to satisfy your right honourable House, that no such dangerous projects ever entered the minds of those who constituted almost the entire mass of that most numerous Meeting. Therefore in the hope of producing this conviction in the mind of your right honourable House, your petitioner begs leave to proceed to state: that he, who was then at his house in the country, received, a short time before the 15th of November last, a letter from Thomas Preston, Secretary of a Committee, requesting your petitioner to attend a Public Meeting of the distressed inhabitants of the metropolis, intended to be held in Spa-fields on the day just mentioned; that your petitioner thereupon wrote to Thomas Preston to know what was the object of the intended meeting;—that he received, in the way of answer, a newspaper Edition: current; Page: [160] called the Independent Whig of November 10th, 1816, containing an advertisement in these words; to wit: “At a Meeting held at the Carlisle, Shoreditch, on Thursday evening, it was determined to call a meeting of the distressed manufacturers, mariners, artisans and others of the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark and parts adjacent, in Spa-fields, on Friday the 15th instant, precisely at twelve o’clock, to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning the Prince Regent and Legislature, to adopt immediately such measures as will relieve the sufferers from the misery which now overwhelms them. (Signed) John Dyall, Chairman, Thomas Preston, Secretary;”—that your petitioner upon seeing this advertisement, hesitated not to accept of the invitation;—that he attended at the said meeting:—that he there found ready prepared, a paper, called, to the best of his recollection, a memorial, which some persons, then utter strangers to him, proposed to move for the adoption of the Meeting;—that your petitioner perceiving in this paper, propositions of a nature which he did not approve of, and especially a proposition for the Meeting going in a body to Carlton House, declared that he would have nothing to do with the said memorial—that your petitioner then brought forward an humble petition to the Prince Regent, which petition was passed by the Meeting unanimously, and which petition, having been by your petitioner, delivered to Lord Sidmouth, that noble Lord has, by letter, informed your petitioner, was immediately laid before his Royal Highness the Prince Regent. And your petitioner here begs leave further to state, upon the subject of the aforementioned Memorial, that John Dyall, whose name, as Chairman of the Committee who called the Meeting (and of which Committee Thomas Preston was Secretary), having, before the Meeting took place, been called before Mr. John Gifford, one of the Police Magistrates, had furnished Mr. Gifford with a copy of the said Memorial, and that that copy was in the hands of Lord Sidmouth at the moment when the Meeting was about to assemble, though (from an oversight, no doubt) neither the Police Magistrates nor any other person whatever gave your petitioner the smallest intimation of the dangerous tendency or even of the existence of such Memorial, or of any improper views being entertained by any of the parties calling the Meeting, though it now appears, that the written placards entitled “Britons to Arms” are imputed to those same parties, though it is notorious that that paper appeared in all the public prints so far back as the month of October, and though, when your Petitioner waited on Lord Sidmouth with the petition of the Prince Regent, that noble Lord himself informed your petitioner, that the Government were fully apprized beforehand of the propositions intended to be brought forward at the Meeting. So that your petitioner humbly begs leave to express his confidence that your Honourable House will clearly perceive, that if any insurrection had taken place on the day of the first Spa-fields Meeting, it would have been entirely owing to the neglect, if not connivance, of those persons who possessed a previous knowledge of the principles and views of the parties with whom that Meeting originated.

With regard to the second assertion, namely, that, “care was taken to adjourn the Meeting to the 2nd of December,” your petitioner begs leave to state, that it will appear upon the face of the proceedings of that day, that there was nothing like previous concert or care in this matter; for, that a resolution first proposed to adjourn the Meeting to the day of the Edition: current; Page: [161] Meeting of Parliament, and then to meet in Palace-yard, of course not so much in the vicinity of the Bank and the Tower; and that when this resolution was awarded so as to provide for a meeting on the 2nd of December on the same spot, it was merely grounded on the uncertainty as to the time when the Parliament might meet. Your Petitioner further begs leave to state here, as being, in a most interested manner, connected with this adjournment of the Meeting, that, when your Petitioner waited on Lord Sidmouth with the petition to the Prince Regent, he informed his Lordship that the Meeting was to re-assemble on the 2nd of December, when your Petitioner had engaged to carry his Lordship’s answer and deliver it to the adjourned meeting, and, that his Lordship, so far from advising your Petitioner not to go to the said Meeting, so far from saying any thing to discourage the said Meeting, distinctly told your Petitioner, that your Petitioner’s presence and conduct appeared to his Lordship to have prevented great possible mischief. Whence your Petitioner humbly conceives, that he is warranted in concluding that there did, at the time here referred to, exist in his Lordship no desire to prevent the said Meeting from taking place.

Your Petitioner, in adverting humbly to the Third assertion of your Secret Committee, begs to be permitted to state, that the persons who went from Spa-fields to engage in riot on the 2nd of December, formed no part of the Meeting called for that day; that these persons came into the fields full two hours before the time of meeting; that they left the fields full an hour before that time; that they did not consist, at the time of leaving the fields, of more than forty or fifty individuals; that they were joined by sailors and others, persons going from witnessing the execution of four men in the Old Bailey; that your Petitioner, who had come up from Essex in the morning, met the rioters in Cheapside; that he proceeded directly to the Meeting, which he found to be very numerous; that there a Resolution was immediately proposed by your Petitioner strongly condemning all rioting and violence, which Resolution passed with the most unanimous acclamations; that a Petition, which has since been signed by upwards of twenty-four thousand names, and received by the House of Commons, was then passed; and that the Meeting, though immense as to numbers, finally separated, without the commission of any single act of riot, outrage, or violence. And here your Petitioner humbly begs leave to beseech the attention of your honourable House to the very important fact of a third Meeting having taken place on the 10th instant, on the same spot, more numerously attended than either of the former; and that, after having agreed to a Petition, which has since been received by your honourable House, the said Meeting separated in the most peacable and orderly manner; which your Petitioner trusts is quite sufficient to convince your honourable House that, if, as your Secret Committee reported, designs of riot do still continue to be prosecuted with sanguine hope of success, these designs can have no connection whatever with the Meetings for retrenchment, relief, and reform, held in Spa-fields.

That, as to the pike-heads, your Petitioner begs leave to state to your right hon. House, that while he was at the last Spa-fields Meeting, an anonymous letter was put into the hands of your Petitioner’s servant, who afterwards gave it to your Petitioner; that this letter stated that one Bentley, a smith, of Hart-street, Covent-garden, had been employed by a man, in the dress of a gamekeeper, to make some spikes to put round Edition: current; Page: [162] a fish-pond; that the gamekeeper came and took a parcel away and paid for them; that he came soon afterwards and said the things answered very well, and ordered more to be made; that, in a little while after this, the said Bentley was sent for to the Bow-street Office, and, after a private examination, was desired to make a pike, or spike, of the same sort, and to carry it to the office, which he did. That your Petitioner perceives that the information which it contains may possibly be of the utmost importance in giving a clue to the strict investigation, which he humbly presumes to hope will be instituted by your honourable House into this very interesting matter.

That as to the Fifth assertion, that Delegates have assembled in London from Hampden Clubs in the country, your Petitioner has first to observe, that these persons never called themselves Delegates, and were not called Delegates by anybody connected with them; that they were called, and were, “Deputies from Petitioning Bodies” for Parliamentary Reform; that your Petitioner was one of them, having been deputed by the petitioners at Bristol and Bath; that these Deputies met three times, and always in an open room, to which newspaper reporters were admitted; that an account of all their proceedings was published; that they separated at the end of three days, not upon a motion of adjournment, but of absolute dissolution, which motion was made by your Petitioner, who is ready to prove that your Committee has been imposed upon as to the fact that these Delegates, or Deputies, are expected to meet again in March.

That your Petitioner is ready to prove at the bar of your right hon. House all the facts and allegations contained in this Petition, and that he humbly prays so to be permitted there to prove them accordingly.

And your Petitioner will ever pray.
Henry Hunt.


On the Reports made to Parliament.—On the Habeas Corpus suspension.—On the Sedition Bills and Treason Bills,—On the State to which we are Reduced.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
March 5, 1817
My Good Neighbours,

Yesterday the Act passed the Royal Assent! It is now a law; and to this law we must now submit! For many, many years, I have been warning my country against the measures, which have finally brought us Edition: current; Page: [163] to this pass; and, those among you, who have been in the the habit of attending the Meetings at Winchester, will remember how the greater part of the farmers and of all those who seemed to be in rather higher life than the rest used to scoff at me, when I foretold to you all what would be the end of the things which I used to complain of.—Those persons must now begin to feel some degree of alarm and shame; but this feeling comes too late.

I have no scruple to say, that this is the most important event that has taken place in the world for hundreds of years; because it changes, in the most important part, the state of this nation, which is, and long has been, of greater consequence than any other nation. The event itself being so awfully important, you, and every Englishman, ought to know what has produced it. When our children’s children shall read of this event, they will be all anxiety to know what was the cause of it; what was the cause of putting, for several months at the least, the personal safety of every man, however innocent he may be, within the absolute power of a Secretary of State, or of Six Privy Councillors.

This measure was proposed to the two Houses, in consequence of a Report to each House, made by a Secret Committee of each House, and these Reports were made upon certain evidence, produced to those Secret Committees. The progress of the proceedings, in the House of Commons, for instance, was as follows:—

  • 1. The Prince, in his Speech, speaks of designing and evil-minded men, who are endeavouring to seduce the people into unlawful acts; and he expresses his confidence, that Parliament will cordially co-operate with him in suppressing this evil.
  • 2. The Ministers bring, by the Prince’s order, a Bag, containing a parcel of papers, which, they say, prove that there is a design to make a revolution and destroy the Government; and upon this they moved for a Secret Committee to inquire into the contents of the Bag, and to make a Report to the whole House upon the subject, and to say what ought to be done in consequence of those contents.
  • 3. The Committee was appointed in this way:—It was to consist of twenty-one members. Each Member of the House put twenty-one names upon a bit of paper, and then put that paper into a glass, or box. Then the whole of the papers are taken out, and the twenty-one men, whose names are upon the greatest number of bits of paper, are the Committee! So you see, that on whichever side the majority of the House is, that side must have the choosing of the Committee. This is called choosing by ballot; but, what people in general think about ballot is, that the names of all the Members in the House are put into a glass, or box, and then the first twenty-one, taken out promiscuously, like a jury, are the Committee. You see, that this is no such thing; and, indeed, it was so well known who would be the members of the Committee, that Mr. Brougham actually read the twenty-one names to the House before the papers were put into the box.
  • 4. This was the Committee, to whom the papers were referred. They assembled, looked at the contents of the Bag, which contents had been collected by the Ministers.
  • 5. They made a Report; that is to say, they drew up an account, founded on these papers, and laid it before the House. And, in both Edition: current; Page: [164] Houses of Parliament, the Report concludes with stating, that the laws, as they now stand, are not sufficient to preserve the peace of the country.
  • 6. The Ministers come and propose new laws; one to make it death to attempt to seduce either soldiers or sailors from their duty; another to make it treason to do certain acts relative to the endangering the person of the Prince Regent; another to prevent public meetings unless under new regulations, and for checking the circulation of certain pamphlets, &c.; and another, which is the all-in-all, for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, and, thereby, putting every man’s person in the power of the Ministers, to enable them to shut it up at their absolute pleasure, without any limit whatever, except that the Act, as it now stands, is to last only till July next; but, this Act may be renewed before July next, and, that it will be renewed, who can doubt? For, can the country possibly be more quiet then than it is now?

After this brief history of the proceedings, which have more immediately led to this shocking state of things, it will only be necessary to insert the Reports themselves, in order to enable you to form a correct judgment as to the grounds of the laws that have been passed. These Reports are immortal documents.—They should be read by you all, and preserved as you would preserve your eye-sight. Read them over and over again; put them by, and then take them out again. How you, my good neighbours, and all the people of England, will be surprised to find, that, upon these Reports of Committees formed as above described, and without any evidence of any sort submitted to their own inspection, the two Houses have, by vast majorities, proceeded to take away even our personal safety, and to make it possible for any man, however innocent, to be taken out of his bed and carried away to a prison, without any hearing even before the Secretary of State who shall sign the warrant for his imprisonment.

In order to rouse the nation to make all the legal efforts in their power to obtain a repeal of this terible law of suspension, the first thing is to make them clearly understand the grounds on which it has been passed; to make them see the alleged grounds, and to enable them to form an opinion as to the real grounds. When that is done, they will have the matter full in their minds; and they will see what it is that has produced the evil.

It is said that the Habeas Corpus Act has been suspended before, so that this is no new thing. This, therefore, is a point of great moment. The Act has been suspended before; but, under what circumstances? It was suspended in the reign of George 1. when there was a Pretender to the throne living in France, and supported by the King of France, and when there were many powerful men in England who were plotting with that Pretender to bring him over, and to put down the Family then upon the throne. Were these circumstances like those of the present day? A French army was then in readiness to come over to assist that Pretender, and it was very well known, that many men, and men of weight too, were ready to join that French army. It was, therefore, necessary to give great powers to the Government in order that they might, upon any sudden emergency, lay hold of any man suspected of a design to aid in such an enterprise; because, if suffered to remain at Edition: current; Page: [165] large, he might join the enemy and greatly add to the danger and the bloodshed. But, does any such cause of fear exist now? We are at peace, and in close alliance, with all the Kings of Europe; their subjects are all in a state of quiet submission; there is no Pretender; no man at home, who has any weight at all, proposes, or even hints at, any change in the established things of the country; there has been no attempt of any sort to effect Reform by violence; and, therefore, there is no sort of resemblance in the circumstances of the two cases.

In the reign of George II. the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended; but then, not only was there a Pretender living in France and encouraged and supported by the King of France, but he actually landed in Scotland, was joined by large numbers and by several Noblemen, marched towards London at the head of an army, and got as far as Carlisle. Under such circumstances it was the duty of the Parliament to empower the Ministers to seize and keep safe persons suspected of a design to join the enemy. But, to attempt to justify the suspension now, because a suspension took place then, would be like proposing to cut off a man’s arm on account of a pin-scratch upon his finger, because a man’s arm had once been cut off on account of a mortification of his hand.

The Act was suspended during the first war against the French Revolutionists. But, at that time, we were at war with a very populous and powerful nation, who had destroyed their Church and Nobility, put their King to death, declared their country to be a Republic, and had offered their assistance to any other oppressed people to enable them to do the same in their country. This was denied to aim at England; but, at any rate, there was this pretence. Then it is certainly true, that Delegates from Societies in England had gone to, and been received by, the French Convention. This was another pretence. It is also certain, that, in many publications and speeches it was openly avowed, that it would be desirable to erect a Republic in England. Most men of liberal minds opposed most strenuously the suspension even then. Yet taking into view only the circumstance of war, and the character of the enemy; and supposing no Republican designs to have really existed; taking the matter in this light, how very different are the two cases! Not only are we at peace now with all the world; but a war is almost impossible. Not only are the French not Republicans, but they are become Royalists after having tried Republicanism, and we are daily and hourly told, that they are happy under their return to a Kingly Government; and, so far from their King being our enemy, he is our friend and ally. Not only have we nothing from without to encourage any body here to think of a change in the form of Government; but the very men, who, through the press, justify this suspension of our liberties and even our personal safety, tell us, in the same breath, that we live under a Government, which is the admiration and envy of the world!

Therefore if I were to allow, which I do not, that the suspension was justifiable during the war against the French Republicans, I should for the very same reasons, amongst many others, deny that it was justifiable now. Thus then, the assertion, that the suspension is not a new thing is all sophistry; it is a base attempt to deceive the people, to blind them, to hush their well-grounded fears, and to reconcile them to a measure, which, if it remain any considerable time in force, must, as every one must see, be the cause of endless misery and degradation.

Edition: current; Page: [166]

I am well aware, that there are people enough to say: “What is the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act to me? I am on the side of the Ministers; or, I never meddle with politics. I shall be as safe as if the Act had never passed. The Act will be a dead letter as far as relates to me.” So it will, perhaps, as to direct effect; and it certainly will be so far as relates to horses, oxen, mules, asses, hogs, dogs, cats, poultry, fish, posts, and stones; but, the man, who does not perceive, that this Act will affect him indirectly, and who does not feel pain and shame at seeing it passed under the present circumstances, is, in the scale of animal life, far inferior in merit to a horse or a dog. The truth is, that every man, be he who or what he may, unless selfishness has made him a brute, does feel deep sorrow and shame upon this occasion; and, these miserable pretences of being contented under this state of things, and of not being affected by it, arise out of a desire to hide the pain and shame that they feel; to hide the feeling from their neighbours, and, if it were possible, from themselves; just as we always hear men endeavour to console themselves for the loss of things which they see no prospect of preserving or regaining; though the very same things had been but a little while before the pride and the happiness of their lives. This pretence, however, will become every day more fashionable. To affect to despise the Personal Safety Law will be as much in fashion as it is amongst cast-off lovers to affect to despise their former sweethearts; and, in a very short time, if the Suspension Act be permitted to continue in force, we shall hear it applauded as a lucky measure, just as we did the stoppage of cash-payments at the Bank, which, for a little while, was regarded as the most ruinous measure that ever was adopted, and which, now, it has proved to be, that measure being the great cause of all the present miseries, and even of these last fatal measures of restraint.

When that measure was first adopted, it was only for six weeks; then for three months; then for a year; then to the end of the war; then for the first year of peace; then for one more year; then for the new war; then for a year of peace; and now for two years: and thus it has already gone on for twenty years! And, if the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act be suffered to be renewed but once; if it be not repealed indeed almost immediately, what hope can any man of sense entertain, that it will ever be repealed? Can the country ever be more quiet than it is now? Can it be more prosperous and less miserable as long as the funding system to its present extent shall last? Will commerce, manufactures, and agriculture, revive under that load which has crushed them to pieces? When, then, if not now, is this Act ever to be repealed? It has been passed in a time of profound peace; it cannot be denied that the patience of the people has been unparalleled; they have met in immense multitudes all over the kingdom to petition; they have been guilty of no outrages, no breaches of the peace; goaded and provoked in all sorts of ways, they have made no attacks on the persons or the property of the rich; and, if the Act be called for now, when, I again ask, is it to cease? When is to come the time, when it will not be called for, and when there will not be found persons to justify its continuance?

Let no one, therefore, deceive himself with the expectation of a return from this path at some future time. The petitions for a repeal must be sent up now or never. It will be a striking fact in history, that, on the Edition: current; Page: [167] very night that this Bill made its last appearance in the House of Commons, there lay upon the floor of that House, nearly six hundred petitions signed by one million and sixty thousand men, praying for Parliamentary Reform. They had been carried down in hackney-coaches, and had been carried in by Sir Francis Burdett and Lord Cochrane; and when the two Masters in Chancery came in to announce that the Lords had finished the Bill, they were unable to approach the table, the whole space of several yards, from the bar to the table, being filled with this immense heap of petitions! There had been petitions, with several hundred thousand names, presented before, and praying for the same thing; and Sir Francis Burdett, when the Bill came down from the Lords, emphatically observed, “That Bill is the answer to these petitions;” an observation which history will not forget in recording the occurrences of these disgraceful times. I believe, that, in the whole, more than one million and a half of men have signed petitions for Parliamentary Reform, upon the principles of Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage; and, this has been done in the most fair and open manner. In the eleven millions, or thereabouts, of the natives of England and Scotland, there cannot be more than about two millions of active, sturdy men. However, suppose the families to be two millions and a half, and that there be one active man to each family, a majority of the active men of the nation have petitioned upon this occasion, notwithstanding all the efforts that have been made to prevent petitioning. But, the truth is, that a considerable part of the petitions are not yet come in; and, if no measures of prevention, no menaces, no undue influence, had been made use of, there would, I am convinced, have been nine-tenths of the names of all the men in the country to these petitions.

This, therefore, is THE PRAYER OF THE PEOPLE. Let our adversaries say or do what they will, this is the PEOPLE’S PRAYER; and, though corruption may call it an attempt to overthrow the Constitution, this prayer, I am fully convinced, will be finally heard. I, for my part, as far as I have power, will always contend for this as our right. We have by reference to law and by an appeal to reason, proved it to be our right; and we have received no answer.

It was my intention to enter here into a description of the other Bills that are now passing; but, I have not room in this Number, and it is absolutely necessary to publish the reports, because we are now entering upon a new sort of rule, and the time will come when we shall have to refer to the sources from whence it has sprung. Keep this Number, I beg of you; for we shall often have to speak of it. In entering upon this new state of things we ought first to trace the causes of it, and then to get at a clear notion of what it is. This we shall do in the course of the next Number; and then we shall have to make all the legal exertions in our power to get rid of this deep disgrace on ourselves and our country.

I am, your friend,
Edition: current; Page: [168]


Meeting at Winchester.—Outrageous Parsons.—Dreadful Row.—Lockhart the Brave Challenge of Lockhart the Brave to Mr. Cobbett.—The Sinecure Crew’s Flight.—Mr. Cobbett chaired.—No Address agreed to by the Meeting.—Cashman’s Death.—Arrests in Lancashire.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
13th March, 1817
My worthy Countrymen,

The necessity of going into Hampshire will compel me to confine myself this week within very narrow limits; but in my next I shall resume the discussion relative to the famous Bills, which have totally changed the situation of every man in this country, and shall endeavour to put the whole of that matter in so clear a light, that no human creature, who reads what I write, shall want any more information relative to it. In such a case, the main thing is, to give the great mass of the people a clear and true idea of what the things are which have been done; for, when that is once fixed in their minds, never, no, never, will it be got out again. There it will live as long as life shall animate the frame.

Few comparatively of you were at the Meeting, but you must all hear the story of Lockhart the Brave. However, this story must come in at its proper place of the proceedings of the tumultuous eleventh of March. You will bear in mind, that the Meeting was called by Mr. Fleming (late Willis) who is the high sheriff, in consequence of a requisition signed by the Marquis of Winchester, who is Groom of the Stole, the Marquis of Buckingham, whose father was a Teller of the Exchequer, Old George Rose, who is every thing, Lord Palmerston, who is Secretary at War, Mr. Sturges Bourne, who is a Lord of the Treasury, Mr. Garnier, who is Apothecary-general, Earl Malmsbury, who has a heavy pension, Lord Fitzharris, who is Governor of the Isle of Wight for life, and several other persons. There was a requisition sent to the Sheriff before the one here mentioned was sent to him; but, this other was carried to him by my son John a few days before he was Sheriff. My son wished to leave it with him. No. That was not approved of. It might be brought to him again the next Monday; but, when carried to him again, another had been brought to him along with his patent of Sheriff! Ours was therefore set aside, though it had been tendered first; and when my son suggested, that both might be inserted in the call, as was done last year by poor talking Bosanquet, the impartiality of Mr. Fleming induced him to refuse to do it, though he very condescendingly offered to have our names Edition: current; Page: [169] put under the requisition of the Groom of the Stole, the Apothecary-general, and Old George Rose, an honour, of which we had too much modesty to accept.

Upon this occasion every nerve appears to have been strained by the whole of the nobility, gentry and clergy in the country, and upon my arrival in Winchester (from London) at ten o’clock in the morning, news assailed me from all quarters, that there was a plan resolved on for effectually preventing Lord Cochrane and all those who might take part with him from being heard; and when the Meeting was opened, we soon discovered, that this plan was, if possible, to be carried into execution. There was good sense in it on the part of our adversaries; for they were sure to be beaten, if we were heard, and they could only be beaten if we were not, and as to shame, you will soon see, that that formed no obstacle in their way.

When the High Sheriff had read the requisition and opened the Meeting, I offered myself to the Meeting with a paper in my hand. It was a copy of our requisition, and my object was merely to state, on that subject, what I have above stated to you. But, the Sheriff did not, and could not, know what it was. It might be an address; and, as I had the first word, it was his duty to let me proceed. He insisted that I should not; and that another address should be moved first by Sir Charles Ogle, a gentleman fixed upon, probably, for his inoffensive and amiable character. I insisted on my right, and now began a scene of uproar such as I never before witnessed. I besought the little dull Sheriff to let me only say ten words to explain the affair of the two requisitions. No. He was in hopes that I should not get a hearing. There we stood for half an hour. Noise on both sides so that not a word could be heard.

The people were assembled in the court-yard of the Castle, on one of the sides of which is the Grand Jury Chamber, having four windows, from which the speakers were to speak. The chamber was at once filled full, to the amount of, perhaps, a hundred persons, consisting chiefly of clergymen, custom-house people, barrack-people, and the like, who, with sticks and umbrellas, and heels of shoes, and with shoutings, groanings, hissings, spittings, and other means of annoyance, endeavoured to stun and overwhelm us. However, all would not do. Our friends without returned the charge with interest, and nothing could be heard. At last came forward Sir Charles Ogle with the Address, ready engrossed upon parchment. I suppose he did read it, for, being at the next window, I saw his lips move; but, I am sure, that he himself did not hear the sound of his own voice, and I must do him the justice to say, that he appeared heartily ashamed of the part that he had been selected to act. Mr. Ashton Smith came forward to second that which nobody had heard read. He put his hand a little way out of the window, but, as if struck by the arrow that flieth by day, he drew it in under a shout of disapprobation enough to kill a gentleman dead upon the spot, when he reflected that it came from the lips of his own neighbours.

As yet the Meeting knew nothing of what had been done. But, Lord Cochrane, who had obtained a look only at a copy of the Address, now began to move another Address as an amendment to it; and here it was that the mortification and rage of our opponents, particularly of those within, began to discover itself in symptoms bordering very closely on those of hydrophobia, or dog-madness. It was now most Edition: current; Page: [170] curious to observe the workings in the minds of different descriptions of the audience. A great number of the tenants had been pressed into the service of our opponents; some of their tradesmen; many dockyard people and taxing people. In the minds of many of these, there was a real inclination on our side; and, in the minds of many more, curiosity was too powerful, for the moment, at least, for the sense of obedience. So that the Parsons and some few others finding the task of interruption devolving upon themselves, and having hardly any but their own voices, became shy; and silence was produced. His Lordship began by inquiring into the conduct of the little Sheriff in preferring the other requisition to that which his Lordship had signed, and stated, as a probable reason for the preference, that some of the persons, who had signed the former requisition, had received out of the public money more than enough to pay all the poor-rates of Hampshire for ten years! His Lordship, after a variety of most excellent remarks, was proceeding to read his amendment, when the Sheriff interrupted him by saying, that, as those subjects were not proposed in the requisition, they could not, and should not, be put to the Meeting. If the little man’s ears have recovered the salute, which he received upon this, he is happy, at any rate, in his hearing faculties, though, to me, deafness would have been far preferable to the receiving of sounds more than sufficient to kill a man of any feeling.

The contest now was, whether Lord Cochrane should be allowed to propose his amendment. The Sheriff insisted that he should not, and a vast majority of the people insisted that he should. What the amendment was I could not precisely discover; for I was at the right-hand window, the Sheriff at the second, and Lord Cochrane at the third. To get at his Lordship was impossible. About twenty Parsons had placed themselves at his back, and would suffer no one to approach him. I asked to be permitted to do so, and, upon observing to one of the Parsons in the rear rank of this true Church Militant, that I wanted to speak to his Lordship: “I know you do,” said he, “and I want that you shall not!”

After this state of uproar had lasted for about half an hour, there was a new actor put forward. It was Mr. Lockhart of the Honourable House. His name was announced. Uncertainty produced silence. A lawyer, a Member of Parliament, a learned friend. He would surely put us into the right path! He began by a declaration of his impartiality. He stated broadly, that nothing could be regularly proposed to the Meeting, which had not been announced in the requisition; and that, therefore, the Noble Lord had discovered “gross ignorance” of the mode of proceeding upon such occasions, when he introduced subjects, which had not been announced in the requisition, out of the limits of which we were not permitted to travel in the smallest degree. Mr. Lockhart had begun his speech by observing, that he was sure he should not incur the displeasure of the Meeting, and that the only favour he had to beg of them was not to interrupt him by their applauses, a favour which was readily granted; for, no sooner was it perceived, that his object was to prevent Lord Cochrane from moving his amendment, than he become an actor in dumb show.

Lord Cochrane had spoken, and had been heard too, till, with the noise at his back and all together, he appeared to be nearly exhausted; and, besides, my tongue really ached to be at this Learned Friend. Edition: current; Page: [171] Curiosity was now more powerful, in consequence, partly, of my announcing my object to be to answer the Learned and Honourable Member. The silence was complete. I took Mr. Lockhart upon his own ground; said that I was willing to agree to the Address as far as it was strictly conformable to the requisition; and, even if I found, that it did depart from the gentleman’s own rule, I would agree to it, provided, that its meaning were made clear, and that nothing amounting to downright nonsense was left in it. First, then, I begged to be furnished with the Requisition, which the Sheriff very sulkily handed down to me from his window, and which I read in the following words: “We, the undersigned freeholders of the county of Southampton, request you will fix an early day for a County Meeting, to consider of an Address to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, on the outrageous and treasonable attack made upon his Royal Highness on his return from opening the Session of Parliament.” Then I obtained a copy of their Address, which confined itself to the nobility, gentry, clergy, and freeholders, instead of going to “inhabitants in general,” which words, for the reasons which I stated, I proposed to introduce. Next, to get rid of a small portion of nonsense, I proposed, that the Address should be “laid before his Royal Highness,” instead of being laid “at his Royal Highness’s feet.” Next, this Address, which Mr. Lockhart had asserted to be strictly confined to the matters propounded in the Requisition, contained “a pledge to support the religion and constitution of the country.” For religion I had no objection to substitute tithes, if Mr. Lockhart would give his consent; but I said, from what I had read, that I, who was a true churchman, was afraid he would not! This threw the Learned Friend into utter confusion, and even made the parsons prick up their ears and dart a look at him from all quarters! The farmers pricked up their ears too, and began to smirk and to look sideways slyly at the parsons, bringing their chins down upon their cravats at the same time. The little Sheriff himself was at a loss what course to pursue. All was dead silence, while I, in a low, solemn, and sort of prophetic tone, bade the parsons take warning, that, before that day two years, they would have cause to remember my words, and would see how foolish, beyond all foolishness, their conduct had been in opposing a Reform of the Parliament, and in so rancorously pursuing its advocates. Lord Fitzharris is, in the Morning Chronicle, reported to have said, that nothing could be heard at the Meeting. His lordship could not have been there. Never was silence more complete; never was impression deeper. Mr. Lockhart was in vain invited to answer. Not a word had he to say; and an attempt which he had made to explain, that by religion was meant the Prince, the Prince being the head of the Church, was turned into such ridicule, and excited such bursts of laughter, even amongst our opponents, that the learned expositor seemed to be absolutely sinking through the floor. He skulked back from the window and took shelter amongst the parsons, who seemed to avoid him, as the herd always shun a wounded or hunted deer.

But, Mr. Lockhart’s mortification was not even yet at its height; for if the word religion meant the Prince, constitution, which we were also to pledge ourselves to support, could not mean the same thing, and besides, the learned expositor had said, that by Constitution were meant king, lords, and commons. Here, then, the Address had travelled out of the Requisition, or the learned expositor had been wrong in his exposition; and I had to leave it to the Meeting to decide, who had discovered the Edition: current; Page: [172]grossest ignorance,” the learned Member or the noble Lord. This, however, being so loose a phrase as to admit of so many interruptions, I proposed to amend the Address by inserting, after the word constitution, “as established by Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Habeas Corpus, for which our forefathers fought and bled,” with which amendment I was willing for the Address to pass unanimously.

There was something so moderate, so reasonable, so manifestly just and proper in this, that our opponents could not for very shame object to it. Mr. Lockhart was called upon by the whole Meeting to come forward. He had the merit, though a lawyer, of discovering some degree of reluctance to oppose a thing so manifestly right. But after taking time to rally his spirits, he put his head forth, and said: “Gentlemen, if you adopt Mr. Cobbett’s amendments, you will declare against loyalty, and for every thing that is seditious and wicked.” Upon which, I said, “Now, Gentlemen, I am happy to say, that however we may have been misled by our passions this day to express our differences in so violent a manner, upon one point I am sure we shall be perfectly unanimous, and that is, that Mr. Lockhart has been guilty of the foulest misrepresentations that ever was made by mortal man.” Whereupon one big parson, under the window exclaimed, “Not half foul enough!” but with that single exception, such a roar of indignation as was then uttered against the learned Friend as I never before heard in my life; and most assuredly he merited it, as you will clearly see by looking at the words by which I had proposed to amend the Address, and which words I had wrote down upon paper in the presence of witnesses, which words I repeatedly read from the paper, and from which paper I have copied the words now. This shout of indignation produced the challenge from Lockhart the Brave, of which I shall speak by and by.

Mr. Hunt seconded the amendments, and was heard very well for about half an hour. Great impatience was now manifested by our opponents to put an end to the Meeting. “Pray, Mr. Sheriff, dissolve; pray, Mr. Sheriff, adjourn;” resounded from the quarters of the parsons, and custom-house, and dock-yard people; but, all at once, from the fourth window, out bolted Mr. Henry Marsh, who, in a speech of half an hour’s duration, and, as I was told (for he was too far off for me to hear) replete with wit and humour of the best sort, turned the conduct of our opponents and the matter of their illiterate and slovenly Address into such ridicule, that scarcely a man could refrain from laughing in the most immoderate manner. The Sheriff strained his throat in vain to call Mr. Marsh to order; the latter put it to the vote, whether he should be heard or not; the Meeting decided that he should, and on he went amidst an uproar of laughter as loud as the shoutings and groanings which saluted the ears of the Sheriff and his back, Mr. Lockhart, whenever they attempted to interfere. The parsons and tax-eaters cried out, “Treason! take him up. He turns the attack on the Prince into ridicule. Hear him! hear him! Go on! go on! O, Lord!” And then such laughter as never, I verily believe, was heard before in the world. Some of the farmers and tradesmen and labouring people I could see putting their hands to their sides and laughing till they were ready to tumble down. The women and girls, of whom the number was not small, were convulsed with laughter, till at last it was more like screaming than laughing.

It was nearly five o’clock, the Meeting having began precisely at twelve. The Sheriff now saw, that his power was of no avail, and that, Edition: current; Page: [173] unless something was speedily done for the poor Address, it could not have even the semblance of being agreed to. He, therefore, poked out his head to put the Address. We called for the amendments to be put, as all the world knows they ought to have been. He and Mr. Lockhart refused! They would not put the amendments. Not a word was heard, except by us who stood near the little gentleman. The uproar was renewed. But, having carried our point; having got a hearing, and given a most famous lashing to our opponents, we waved our hats to our friends and produced a division. The Sheriff decided that the Address was carried three or four to one; and I am most sincerely persuaded, that the majority was on our side.

Lord Cochrane, though standing within one window of the Sheriff, had got at no knowledge as to the subject of the division. His Lordship concluded, of course, that my amendments had been put, and, as the people in the room said, “Cobbett is beaten,” his Lordship then began to move his amendment, which was to set aside the Address altogether. But, behold, while he was speaking with this object in view, the Sheriff packed off, followed by the Parsons and Tax-eaters, who ran down the street amidst hisses, groans, and every mark of popular contempt and indignation! And Lord Cochrane was actually speaking, when the Under-Sheriff came, and told us, that, if we did not disperse, he was ordered to take us into custody! And yet, the Morning Chronicle makes Lord Fitzharris say, in his place in Parliament, that an unanimous vote of thanks was given to the Sheriff! No: nor would any one have been heard for a moment upon such a subject. There was no vote directing who should present the Address. It was no address at all. It was never heard read from first to last. Indeed Lord Fitzharris is made to say, that nothing was heard. How, then, could the address be the Address of the Meeting? The thanks to the Sheriff and the order for presenting the Address, was, I suppose, voted at the inn after dinner; but, at the Meeting neither was ever so much as heard talk of.

The proceedings closed as I have stated. The Winchester correspondent of the Courier, who tells all sorts of falsehoods, concludes thus:—

“N.B. I forgot to tell you, that when Mr. Cobbett left the Castle, a few men proposed that they should borrow a chair to carry him on their shoulders to the inn in the city; he actually waited till they procured one, and suffered himself to be carried in an old arm-chair to the Black Swan, amidst the hisses and groans of the Freeholders.”—Yes, he had forgot to mention this in his letter! He would have forgotten it in the postscript too; but he was afraid, that somebody else might remember it. Whether it was a few men or many men, whether it was in a borrowed chair or a bought chair; whether the chair were old or new; still the reader will perceive, that nothing of this sort was done for our opponents. The truth is, that I was not at all apprized of the matter; that an immense crowd surrounded me to shake hands with me, and the kind and honest hearts of the owners of those hands it would comfort me to think that I had with me, if I were thrown down to the bottom of a dungeon. I could not get along for the crowd. All at once a chair was brought, into which I very cheerfully got, and, when I alighted from it I said: “My kind and honest countrymen, I am proud of the honour you have done me for my own sake; but, I am much more proud of it as I deem it a strong mark of your unshaken attachment Edition: current; Page: [174] to those undoubted and unalienable rights to which I have endeavoured to convince you that you are entitled, and which, whatever becomes of me, I trust nothing will ever induce you to abandon. Be assured, that while my mind retains its faculties, and limbs enjoy that liberty which innocence ought to ensure to every man, I never will cease to maintain our cause to the utmost of my power.”

While this was going on, while all was joy and exultation in our breasts, very different were the feelings of Lockhart the Brave. He had come to me in the Grand Jury Chamber soon after I had charged him so justly with “foul misrepresentation.” He said, he had not been accustomed to receive language like that. I told him to come to me after the Meeting was over. As we were going out of the Chamber, he came again. The thing would admit of no delay. I told him to come to the inn. He did so, with two men as witnesses. I then told him, that I would have no communication with him, except it was in writing. They wanted to sit down in the room, where Mr. Goldsmith, Mr. Hunt, and other gentlemen were with me; but this I told them that I would not suffer; and bade them go out of the room. They did so; and then a correspondence took place, which I insert here word for word and letter for letter, and, if the Learned Friend should feel sore at seeing his agitation exposed in his illiterate notes, let him thank his own folly and imprudence for the exposure.

J J Lockhart
Lockhart, J J

as you requested me to put in writing the object of my requesting a meeting with you, I beg to inform you it was with a view to your retracting the word foul which you applied to me, by stating I had been guilty of a foul misrepresentation” I did not hear whether you said “of your language or intentions—I am Sir your obedient Servant—

J J Lockhart
William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
11th March, 1817

I did not say that it was “a foul misrepresentation,” which you had made, but “the foulest misrepresentation that ever was made by mortal man,” an opinion which I still entertain, and always shall, until you shall fully express your sorrow for the effects of that mortification, which, I hope, led your tongue beyond the cool dictates of your mind.

I am, Sir,
Your most humble,
And most obedient Servant,
Wm. Cobbett.
J J Lockhart
Lockhart, J J

I have received your answer which leaves no alternative except that of my insisting on that satisfaction which you owe me as a Gentleman, and which I wish you would empower some friend to arrange this evening.

I am Sir your obedient Servant
J J Lockhart
March 11, 1817
William Cobbett
Cobbett, William

I shall remain in Winchester this evening for this purpose until 8 o’clock and a friend will deliver this Letter to you, to accept your arrangement—

To Wm. Cobbett, Esq.—
William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
11th March, 1817

If I could stay here another day, I would amuse myself with some fun with you, but having business of more importance on hand, I must beg of you to renew your pleasant correspondence, upon our arrival in town. In the meanwhile I remain,

Your most obedient,
And most humble Servant,
Wm. Cobbett.
Edition: current; Page: [175]

Now, my good neighbours, a few plain facts will enable you to form a perfectly correct judgment of this man’s conduct and character.

First, he knew, that I had written many essays reprobating, in the strongest terms, the practice of duelling.

Second, he knew, that I had held it as a species of suicide for a man, in my situation, to fight a duel, seeing, that, if one missed me, another would be found, till some one should hit me.

Third (and this was his rock of safety), he knew well, that if I accepted of his challenge, I must forfeit instantly five thousand pounds sterling. He knew this well, forhe, who is a lawyer, mind, knew that I had been bound in recognisances for seven years from the year 1812.

This was his safeguard! You often hear of people, who are going to fight duels, taken before magistrates and bound over. That puts an end to the affair. But, he knew, and well knew, that I was bound over beforehand, and in a monstrous and ruinous sum; and, when you are told, that he brought two witnesses with him, you will easily guess what were his real intentions.

When men mean to fight, they go to work in a very different way. They send a single friend to tell the party of it in a whisper. They do not go to the party and take two witnesses with them. They do not run blustering about and making a noise; and, my real belief is, that, if I had done anything, which would have amounted to a breach of the peace; if I had accepted of a challenge, and had appointed a time to fight, Lockhart the Brave would have taken care to have us both bound over, and would have also taken care, that this breach of the peace should have cost me five thousand pounds! This is my belief; but you have the facts before you, and I leave you to judge for yourselves.

It was my intention to offer you some remarks on the Death of Cashman, and on the Arrests in Lancashire; but, I shall be very late as it is, and must now conclude with expressing to you my unalterable attachment and respect.



  • “Unhappy men, whom schoolmasters for spite,
  • Or cruel parents, taught to read and write!
  • Why need you read? Why were you taught to spell?
  • Why write your names? A mark would do as well.”
  • Churchill.
William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
March 20th, 1817
Poor Deluded People,

In writing the last Number I was pressed for time. The Hampshire parsons and Lockhart the Brave had taken up those hours, which ought Edition: current; Page: [176] to have been devoted to a better purpose. However, as that was the last public meeting under the old laws of the land, and, as the conduct of our adversaries was somewhat singular and discovered their temper, it was not altogether useless to put an account of it upon record.

We now live, those of us who may be said to live at all, under a new set of laws. First, every man and woman is now liable to be seized at any moment, and to be put into a prison, and kept there for any length of time, cut off from all communication with friends, wife, children, or any body else whatever; and also from pen, ink, paper, books, in short, any man or woman may now be taken up, sent to any prison in the kingdom, however distant, without any charge being made known to them, without their knowing what is alleged against them, without having any idea of who is their accuser; without having even a hearing from any body, and without their very children knowing how they are treated, or what prison they are in. And after all, if a man outlive these sufferings; if he do not die in prison, his time of remaining there is quite uncertain. It may be for a short, or for a long time; and, if the law be continued in force, it may be for many, many years. The absolute power of imprisoning men in this way is lodged in any one of the Secretaries of State, or, in any six Privy Councillors. This, therefore, is the state, in which we are all now placed, except the Members of the two Houses of Parliament themselves, who cannot be thus imprisoned, without the House being first informed of the cause, and without the consent of the House, who would, of course, hear the accused party in his defence. But, all the rest of us are liable to be taken out of our shops, fields, or beds, and imprisoned and kept in prison, in the manner that I have above described.

The next Act makes it DEATH to attempt to seduce SOLDIERS or sailors from their duty. Now, therefore, my “poor deluded” friends, you ought to bear in mind, that, if any one of you were to ask a soldier to quit his post, or to refrain from doing anything that he had been ordered to do, or to do anything that he had been ordered not to do, you would be liable to be hanged upon the oath of that soldier. If, for instance, any man, sitting in a public-house with a soldier, were to hold a conversation with the soldier, however carelessly, which might be construed to have for its object to induce the soldier not to obey any command of his officers, such man would be liable to be hanged. If a mother, wife, or sweetheart, were to endeavour to induce a son, a husband, or lover, to desert, she would be liable to be hanged. If a wife or daughter, were to endeavour to induce a soldier to wink at the escape of a husband or a father, in pursuit of whom that soldier had been sent, such wife, or daughter, would be liable to be hanged. If a son, seeing a soldier about to plunge a bayonet into the body of his father, by command of his superior (as in case of riot, &c.); if such son were to endeavour to persuade the soldier not to obey the command, such son would be liable to be hanged. Supposing a son to be the soldier in such a case, and his mother were to fling herself before him and scream out to him to spare his father’s life, such mother would for such offence, be liable to be hanged. And, observe, this law is now made perpetual; that is to say, it is intended not to last for any limited time, but to be always the law in future.—Therefore, take care. These are cases which may never exist; but such is the letter of the law.

The Third Act relates to public meetings, to clubs or societies, and reading-rooms and other places for reading. As to public meetings, Edition: current; Page: [177] there can be no more, except such as the sheriffs, mayors, and magistrates approve of; and, deluded as you are, you know very well what sort of meetings they will allow of. Seven householders may call a meeting by public NOTICE; but, they must sign their Notice and lodge it with the clerk of the peace; and, when the meeting takes place, any single magistrate may come, and, if he chooses, disperse it; and, if any speaker utter any thing which the magistrate may think calculated to stir up the people to hatred or contempt of the Government, the magistrate may take such speaker into custody, And, if any number of people exceeding twelve remain together after the meeting is ordered to disperse; or, if any one resist the authority of the magistrate in any way upon these occasions; all such persons are to suffer death. So that, as you see, no meeting can now be held without the consent of sheriff, mayor, magistrate, or some person in authority; for, to suppose, that, under such a law, any other sort of meeting will take place is nonsense. Suppose, for instance, that seven of us, in Hampshire, were to call a meeting by public notice, Parson Baines of Exton, or any other magistrate, might come to it, and if he choose, order us all to disperse in an hour upon pain of death. Or, when any of us began to speak, if we talked about sinecures, taxes, or seats, or any thing else, no matter what, which Parson Baines might think calculated to bring the Government into hatred or contempt, he might seize us and imprison us; and, if any one resisted the seizure, he would be liable to suffer death. This being now the law, I leave you to guess, whether any meetings will be again held, except those, which are called by persons in authority; and what sort of meetings those are you know well enough.

As to clubs and societies none can now exist for any political purpose. I do not see how it is possible for any man to belong to any such society, without subjecting himself to the pains and penalties of this law.

Then comes the part of the law that is levelled against the press. There are many places, where people meet to read. They used to meet to read the Register. One person read, and the rest listened, so that a single Register served for a hundred or two of persons; and by this method the heavy expense occasioned by the stamp, &c. was so divided as to make it nothing at all. There are what are called reading-rooms all over the kingdom. In most large towns there are several of these. At these places books, pamphlets, and newspapers are bought into a common stock by the subscribers to the room, who go when they like and read at the room. The books, pamphlets, and newspapers are bought, or taken in, by a vote of the majority of the subscribers; and in most cases, the publications inculcate different political principles and views, because, generally, men like to hear both sides. The magistrates and parsons have long had great sway in these rooms, and have kept out of them, very frequently, every work that they disliked. The Register, for instance, has long been banished from the most of them, as it has been from the mess-rooms of the army and navy; and my “Paper against Gold,” which now surpasses in sale any publication that ever was heard of in London, except the Register, and which is so well calculated to enlighten the nation upon the most important of all subjects at this moment, and the events so clearly foretold in which are now developing themselves in such a tremendous manner; even this work, which is purely on political Edition: current; Page: [178] economy, and has nothing at all to do with party politics; even this work was shut out of the reading-rooms with the most persevering obstinacy. Still, however, there was no positive law to prevent any particular work, or works of any description, from being read in these rooms; and, the truth is, that the change of times and circumstances began to open these places to works in favour of economy and reform. Now therefore this new law puts all these rooms, as well as all places for lecturing, whether house, room, other building, or field, under the superintendence and power of the magistrates. There is now to be no reading place, or place for giving out publications to be read, no lecturing place, no debating place, without a license, granted at the sole pleasure of the magistrates; and, the magistrates may, whenever they please, revoke and put an end to the license. If the magistrates find that any publications, which they may deem to be of an irreligious, immoral, or seditious TENDENCY, is kept in any such place, they may take away the license and put an end to the business of the man who keeps the room or place for reading. The magistrates are, therefore, to be the sole judges of what ought to be read in such places and of what ought not to be read. They can refuse a license to any man; and they can take a license away from any man after he has got it. They are authorized by this law to demand admittance into every such place, in order, of course, that they may hear, or see, what publications the man keeps to be read, or given out to be read, and, if they are refused admittance, they may, at once, put a stop to the man’s business as keeper of such reading place. It is quite clear, then, that no publications can now be kept in any of those places, except such as the magistrates shall approve of. If, for instance, a reading-room at Southampton has taken in the Register, it is not very likely, that the magistrates there will suffer the master of the room to have a license, unless upon condition of his throwing out the Register; and, if he suffer it to come in after he has got his license, it is not very likely, that he will be permitted to retain his license. So on with regard to all other publications which the magistrates do not like; for, to be sure, they will look upon all such publications as having a tendency of an immoral or seditious sort. Hitherto it has been deemed sufficient to punish severely the authors, printers, and publishers of irreligious, immoral and seditious publications. If the works could be proved to the satisfaction of even a special jury to be libellous, the works were stopped and the parties punished. But, now, though a work be ever so innocent in the eye of the libel-law, it may still be not so in the eye of a magistrate, and then it is to be shut out of these rooms, and the keepers of these rooms may possibly be ruined for suffering them to come into their rooms, though brought in by a vote of their subscribers.

Under such circumstances, it is quite obvious, that there will be no works, not even newspapers, suffered to be read, or kept, in reading-places, except such as the magistrates, the most active of whom are the parsons, approve of. It is quite obvious, that they will now have the absolute power of selecting works for the gentlemen and tradesmen to read at all these numerous places; and that they will let them have no works to read, which the Government do not like they should read, there can, I suppose, be very little doubt. One consequence of this will be, a great diminution of the subscriptions to reading-rooms; for, it is impossible to believe, that the subscribers will not revolt at the idea of Edition: current; Page: [179] placing themselves voluntarily under this odious species of superintendance and dictation; and, as to those, who have now subscribed, they have clearly a right instantly to withdraw, and not to pay one farthing from the day of the passing of the Act, seeing that the Act nullifies their previous engagement, and leaves them not to that free choice of publications, which they enjoyed under their contract with the master of the room. With respect to public-houses, inns, coffee-houses, and the like, as the granting or refusing of their licenses depend already upon the absolute will and pleasure of the magistrates, it would be foolish indeed to suppose, that any newspapers would, in future, be received in them, which the magistrate shall think to contain any thing of an irreligious, immoral, or seditious TENDENCY. And, only think of the extent of this word tendency! Only think of the boundless extent of such a word, and of such a word being left to the interpretation of thousands of men! Suppose the editor of a newspaper to insert an article, which article recommended the reduction of the Salt-tax. What does this tend to? Why, to be sure, a magistrate might think, to make the people discontented with the Salt-tax; to make them discontented with the Salt-tax would be, he might think, to make them discontented with those who compel the people to pay it; those who compel the people to pay it are kings, lords and commons; and, therefore, here is an article which tends to make the people discontented with kings, lords, and commons, and which, of course, tends to produce hatred of them, and to bring about insurrection, treason, revolution, and blood and carnage. There is no bounds to this word tendency, and that, too, as left to the mere opinion of the magistrate. Therefore it is manifest, that while the direct power will overawe and regulate and control the reading-rooms and such places, the indirect power will banish from public-houses of all sorts, every publication, which is at all hostile to the views of the Government; and, in short, that there will, in none of these places, be any reading, except on one side.

Hence will follow a great falling off in the bookselling and newspaper trades, in the amount of the newspaper and paper duty, in the paper-making trade, and in all the various emoluments, to which the making of paper, and the printing and binding and circulating of books and papers give rise. Another consequence will be, a disregard, a total disregard, for all that is permitted to be read. Those who disapprove of these new restraints will consider all that is now permitted in the reading places as partial trash, intended to be crammed down their throats; and, even those, who have been mortified at the growing influence of opinions which they disliked, will soon begin to sicken at the effects of the accomplishment of their own wishes. They will soon begin to feel, that to triumph ever argument by the force of penal statutes, is a thing not to be proud of. They will very soon be ashamed of their success. They will very soon lose all relish for reading that which the law permits not to be controverted. They will soon perceive, that they are placed in the situation of a man, who being upon the point of defeat in a boxing match, has saved himself by resorting to the protection of a dagger. They will see their adversaries retire indeed, but retire amidst the applause and admiration of all the good and the brave, while they themselves have nothing to keep them in countenance but the unconsoling tears of sophistry, selfishness, servility, and of cowardice without a parallel in the history of mankind.

This is the shameful state to which our adversaries are now reduced. Edition: current; Page: [180] The triumph is ours, not theirs. It was a combat of argument, and they have taken shelter under the shield of physical force. Yet, Mr. Canning, amidst loud cheering, as is reported, accused us of foul play! He said, that we, who have written in the cause of Reform, have poisoned the sources of education; that we have turned the capacity to read, amongst the labouring people, to a most mischievous account; that we have acted like an enemy, who, too cowardly to meet our adversaries in the field, have attacked him secretly by putting poisonous drugs into the wells and springs of water!

This comes with decency indeed from one of those, who have resorted to a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act! If, indeed, we had stopped the hawking of our enemy’s publications while our own were permitted to be hawked freely; if I, for instance, had seized numerous poor creatures and put them in prison for selling corruption’s pamphlets, while I protected the sellers of my own; if I had caused scores of lying publications to be sent forth and given away, while corruption had contented herself with a fair sale; if I, unable to answer corruption, had sent out placards to be posted up against her in the dead of the night, while she scorned to resort to any such means against me; if this had been the conduct of the parties, then, indeed, I might justly have been accused of the most infamous foul play. But, exactly the reverse has been the fact. I have relied solely upon the power of truth and of reason; I have had no other aiders and abettors than these; I have trusted wholly to the honesty and the sound understandings of the people; and, how have I been answered?

But, if the people, if millions of people, if nine-tenths of the whole nation, really are “poor deluded creatures,” why has the delusion not been prevented? There are twenty thousand parsons, four or five thousand lawyers, the two Universities, the two Houses of Parliament, many thousands of magistrates, many hundreds of writers for pay. What! and could not all these, with all their learning, and with all their weight, counteract the effect of one poor twopenny pamphlet! For, you will observe, that this it was, which, at bottom, was the main thing! Lord Sidmouth, in his speech, clearly pointed it out, though he did not actually name it. He said, that cheap publications had found their way into the very cottages and hovels. And, he said very truly; but, what reason was this for suspending the Act of Habeas Corpus? He said, that the pamphlets had been submitted to the law-officers, and that they were found to be written with so much dexterity that he was sorry to say, that, hitherto, the law officers could find in them nothing to prosecute! And, what then? Why he proposed, in that very speech, the suspension of the Act of Habeas Corpus! I would even now willingly disbelieve this report of the speech of Lord Sidmouth; but, from what has passed since, I am afraid that it was but too much like what the newspapers have reported.

Why not name me at once? Why not order me not to write any more? Mr. Elliot, one of the friends of Burke and of Lord Fitzwilliam, said, on the second day of the session, that the designing men were sending forth poison in their “venomous weekly publications.” I will not tell this gentleman of what I might tell him; nor will I call his observations venomous; but I ask him if it was a venomous act to put a stop to all the violences against machine-owners and against bakers, butckers, and farmers?

Ten thousand of such men as he would not have been able to do this, Edition: current; Page: [181] which I alone did, and that, too, in the space of one month, and by the means of that publication, which he was pleased to call “venomous.” But, again, if it was venom, that I was sending forth, why was not the antidote administered? Or, does this gentleman suppose, that the superintendance of reading-rooms, or the suspension of our personal safety, is the proper antidote? Is this the way to convince either me, or my readers, that we are in error? Are errors ever corrected in this way?

Oh, no! Mr. Elliot you may be well assured, that if the people have been “deluded,” they are not to be put right by means like these; but, on the contrary, they will now not even listen to anything that shall be written to them on the other side. If I were to be rendered silent, they would still, more firmly than ever, adhere to my doctrines. They would, and they will at any rate, treasure up all the little books that they have got.—They will sooner part with their shirts than they will part with them. As measures to close the people’s eyes against these books, the new laws have come too late. That which you call “venom,” and which I call wholesome food for the mind, has already been received to repletion. Little more could have been done in the way of inculcating principles; if nothing at all were done in addition, those principles will never be eradicated, and never cease to actuate the minds of Englishmen; and though at the bottom of a dungeon, I shall always have the consolation to reflect that more, many more, than a million of my little books are in the hands of my countrymen.

Towards me above all men this treatment is most foul. I have never practised delusion; I have never courted popularity; I never fell into the cry against tithes, or that against the Corn Bill; I have never endeavoured to set the poor against the rich; I have never been guilty of an attempt to practise delusion of any sort. My hostility to the funding system has been long and persevering; I have proposed the checking of its mischiefs to every man in high station, to whom I have ever had an opportunity of speaking. Fourteen years ago, when the interest of the debt was only just half what it is now, I urged the adoption of this measure. A thousand times did I endeavour to impress upon the mind of Mr. Windham a sense of the extreme danger of this terrible system, and this is a fact very well known to Mr. Elliot, who did not then appear to look upon my sentiments as “venomous.” I laid a plan before Mr. Windham, which, if it had been adopted, would have insured, at this day, tranquillity, happiness and liberty, instead of what we have the sorrow and the shame to feel. It was not a subject congenial to his turn of mind. He thought my apprehensions groundless. He used to say, that it would be time enough to jump over that ditch when we came to it; but, I answered, that, if we stayed till we got to the ditch, we never should be able to jump over it. I told him a thousand times, that if the Funding System were not effectually checked, this nation must be enslaved. I told him, that at last, the thing would become wholly unmanageable; that it would roll backwards and forwards like the billows of the troubled ocean, swallowing up a certain portion of happiness at every roll, and that at last, it would produce the very thing that the war and that all his endeavours had been intended to prevent.

And, have I, then, my countrymen, deluded you as to this subject, upon which all others depend? Have I told you anything, as to this greatest of all points, more than I told this statesman many years ago? The only difference is, that you have listened to me, and he did not, Edition: current; Page: [182] because I could not make him see the danger. The application for a Reform of the Parliament we have proved to be just and expedient; but, this is a matter which still admitted of discussion. The misery, however, produced by the funding system came and mixed itself with the question of Reform. And, whose fault was that? Not mine; for, I would, long ago, have effectually prevented the misery by checking the funding system; and that, I know, could be done even now. But, because the misery existed, were we not to urge our claims for Reform in a peaceable and orderly manner, and with the observance of all the forms and ceremonies prescribed by the Constitution?

No: you have not been deluded. It is not a misfortune that you have been able to read. You have read, and you understand, and will long remember, what you have read. It is quite impossible for any man to foresee what will now take place; but, it must be clear to every one, that the measures which have been adopted will not operate as a cure for any part of the evils that oppress the country. My real belief is, that a few conciliatory words would have done much more than all these laws; and, besides, the mere absence of tumult is not tranquillity. That tranquillity which is worth anything must have a source other than that of force and of fear. Prosperity never can return under these laws, which, if they continue in force for any length of time, will infallibly reduce the nation to a state of feebleness such as it never before knew. Its character will sink very fast, and, along with its character, its resources and its power. There are now a million people, men and their families, supported by subscription, exclusive of the paupers usually so called. In such a state of things, how is it possible that the people should not become utterly degraded, while, at the same time, the means of employment are daily growing less and less?

These are all the natural and inevitable consequences of a Funding System. A Funding System has never existed in any country, without producing indescribable misery. Paine most aptly observed, that such a system gave unnatural vigour ’till it arrived at its climax, and then it produced unnatural poverty and feebleness. This has been precisely the case here; and, as to the nonsense about “a sudden transition from war to peace,” it is only the offspring of sickly brains. Here is a great cause of misery and feebleness at work, and nothing can restore happiness and energy except the removal of that cause. Mr. Canning and his fellow-labourer Mr. Elliot may scold about my “poison” and “venom” as long as they please; but to my shop they must come at last, or the malady will end in a most dreadful convulsion.

Before I conclude, let me notice a famous falsehood, which has appeared in the Morning Post of the 18th instant, in the following words:

Cobbett Chastised.—In one instance, at least, this hectoring bully has met with his deserts. Understanding that he passed the night of Sunday at Mr. Timothy Brown’s at Peckham, Mr. Lockhart repaired thither early yesterday morning, with the intention of chastising the Reformer for his insolence at Winchester. Before Mr. L. had reached the Bricklayers’ Arms, he met Cobbett returning to town, and, being furnished with a tremendous horse-whip, he applied it, sans ceremonie, to the broad and well-adapted shoulders of his antagonist. Cobbett escaped into the shop of Mr. Jones, the apothecary, where he remained for two hours. His sconce appears to have suffered considerable damage, as he was seen to leave the apothecary’s shop with an enormous plaster over his left eye.

Now, who, at a distance from London, would not believe this to be Edition: current; Page: [183] true? Who would not believe, that there was, at least, truth in some part of it? Who would not believe, that, at any rate, I was at Mr. Brown’s on Sunday? Who would believe, that it was wholly false? Nevertheless, I never was within several miles of Peckham last Sunday; I slept at No. 8, Catherine-street on that night; I never was out of that house on the Monday; and I have never seen Lockhart the Brave since he came to me, with the two witnesses, at the Black Swan at Winchester!

This is “delusion” indeed! It is the readers of these vile publications who are “deluded.” This is, however, only a specimen of what corruption is capable of, and of what she has long practised. It is, after this, hardly necessary to say, that it would be foolish, and even base, in my readers, ever again to listen for one moment to anything which corruption’s press may say against me, be it what it may, and be it stated with whatever solemnity. I have often said, that these men would not stick at false oaths, and, I am persuaded, that the public will now be of my opinion. Can any one believe, that a wretch, who could sell himself to a purpose like this, would not sell his oath, if he could get a good price for it? I have often said, and I repeat, that those who have the power over the greater part of the London press, are the very basest of mankind. The wretch, who publishes this “venom,” is a staunch partizan of the late measures, and a gross calumniator of the friends of Reform. There needs no more upon the subject. The nation will judge him all in good time.

I am, my worthy Countrymen,
Your friend,


The great cause of the Nation’s sufferings—How this cause has violated contracts. What is the meaning of National Faith.—What Justice now demands at the hands of the Government.—What will be the end of all this?

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
26th March, 1817
Paper-Money Men,

The First Lord of the Treasury has lately said, that the Funds rose in consequence of the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act; and the late Lord Chatham said, more than forty years ago, that the spirits of the Edition: current; Page: [184] Fundholders and Money Dealers always rose in the same proportion as the liberty of their country fell. More than thirteen years ago, I said, that, unless a stop was put to the Funding System, this country must become a den of slaves; for, that it would, in process of time, become impossible to carry on the System, with a great and permanent military force, and without putting an end to every fragment of the people’s freedom.

This consequence was unavoidable. To collect taxes to pay the interest of such an enormous debt must necessarily produce inexpressible misery. Out of this misery must necessarily arise great discontent in the most numerous classes of the people. Out of this discontent would necessarily, in the natural course of things, arise tumults and acts of violence. Such did not arise, because hope was cherished in the breasts of the people by those “evil minded” men, the Leaders of the Reformers. But, unless a Reform took place, it was clear, that something in the way of coercion would be adopted. To be prepared for this coercion an army was necessary. Thus the whole of the intolerable burden arises from the funding system; and the loss of all, even the very last of our liberties, is ascribable to the same all-destroying cause.

Lord Harrowby, at the opening of the session, said, that this system had saved the country. Saved it! What! Is it saved then? With a press under the superintendance of the Magistrates; with a new treason bill revived; with the Habeas Corpus Act suspended in time of profound peace; with millions in a state of starvation; with a ruined commerce, manufactures, and agriculture! With all these notoriously existing, can the country be said to be saved? The Sinecures have, indeed, been saved; the Pensions and Grants have been saved; and the Boroughs have been saved; St. Mawe’s, St. Michel’s, Old Sarum, Gatton, have been saved: but, to such a degree have the nation been ruined, that one half of the people, in many places, have become paupers, and we read in the public papers, that a Deputation is coming from the opulent town of Birmingham to inform the Ministers, that rates can no longer be raised to feed the poor, and that the town prays for assistance! And yet, says Lord Harrowby, the paper-money system has saved the country. His Lordship’s notions about country are very different from mine.

If, indeed, the peace had brought what the Pittites promised us that it should bring; if it had brought us only the same degree of prosperity that existed before the war; if the peace had brought a peaceable government, and the usual blessings of peace, then, indeed, it might have been said with some colour of reason, that the nation had been saved by the paper-money, seeing that it was that paper-money, which enabled the government to carry on the war. But, as the thing now stands, what could have happened worse from not going to war? It is now very clear to me, as it was to Sir Francis Burdett and many other persons at the outset, that peace might have been preserved, with all possible advantage to this country. But, at any rate, what worse could have taken place than has now taken place? What could remaining at peace have produced worse than what has been produced by the paper-money war? Could remaining at peace have done any thing worse than destroy all our liberties and make us a nation of wretched, ruined people? No civilized nation was ever in so miserable a state as this nation now is. This is notorious. This is denied by nobody. Only read a paper in this Number relative to the Watchmakers, and another relative to the diseases of the Edition: current; Page: [185] poor. Only read the petitions to Parliament relative to the poor-rates. And, then say whether nation was ever before in a state of such complete misery. And, in these pictures of wretchedness, we have a view of only a part of the suffering, and by no means of the most afflicting part. It is the anxiety, the heart-achings, the agonizing forebodings of the fathers and mothers in the middle classes of life, whose days have been divided between the caresses of their children and their own incessant industry to provide for their support and respectability. Let Lord Harrowby look at a father and mother of this description, when the former, after all his struggles to overcome his reluctance, has just communicated to the latter the fatal intelligence of his ruin. Let him behold the death-like gloom on their countenances. Let him hear their sighs, when their children, with inquisitive tenderness, ask the cause of that gloom. Let him, if he be capable, bring his mind to the contemplation of a scene like this. Let him reflect, that such scenes are now to be beheld in a great proportion of the farmers’ and tradesmen’s houses in the kingdom; and then let him say again, that the country has been saved by that paper-money system, which has produced all these dreadful effects.

The talk about national faith, as applied to the funds, is the most foolish that ever was heard. What! can national faith demand the payment of double what was borrowed? It is the same sum in name indeed; but, as I have a hundred times proved, it is double the sum in reality. And, this is the real breach of faith; and this breach of faith has been occasioned, not by the nation, but by you, the Men of Paper-Money, who solicited and obtained from Pitt a protection against the law of the land; who thereupon issued immense quantities of the Paper-Money; who thus debased the currency; and, when you had lent this debased currency to the nation, then at your own arbitrary will, raised the value of the currency by diminishing its quantity, and now demand your payment in this raised currency, and by this demand the people are crushed to death. Who, then, has broken the contract? Who has been guilty of a breach of faith? The breach of faith now exists: it is destroying the nation: it has been committed by you: justice demands that you make good the loss of the nation: and make it good you must, or this nation will be wholly ruined and its power destroyed.

To alter the value of the currency of a country has always been held to be a most wicked as well as a most fatal measure. Very bad Kings, before Paper-Money Men were heard of, used, sometimes, to play such tricks with the coin; but it never was done, in any reign, or in any country, without exciting great discontent and producing infinite mischief. The following document of pretty ancient date, will show what were the opinions of our ancestors upon this most important subject. It is very interesting, and well worthy of public attention. It is part of a Speech of Sir Robert Cotton, made to the Privy Council in the reign of Charles II. .—


My Lords,

Since it hath pleased this Honourable Table to command, amongst others, my poor opinion concerning this weighty Proposition of Money, Edition: current; Page: [186] I most humbly crave pardon; if with that freedome that becomes my dutie to my good and gracious Master, and my obedience to your great command, I deliver it so up.

I cannot (my good Lords) but assuredly conceive, that this intended Project of enhauncing the Coyne, will trench both into the Honour, the Justice, and the Profit of my Royall Master very farre.

All Estates do stand Magis Fama quam Vi, as Tacitus saith of Rome; and Wealth in every Kingdome is one of the Essentiall marks of their Greatnesse; and that is best expressed in the Measure and Puritie of their Moneies. Hence was it, that so long as the Romaine Empire (a Pattern of best Government), held up their Glory and Greatnesse, they ever maintained, with little or no charge, the Standard of their coyne. But after the loose times of Commodus had led in Need by Excesse, and so that shift of changing the Standard, the Majesty of that Empire fell by degrees. And as Vopiscus saith, the steps by which that State descended were visibly known most by the gradual alteration of their Coyne. And their is no surer symptome of a Consumption in State than the Corruption in money.

What renown is left to the Posterity of Edward the First in amending the Standard both in purity and weight from that of the elder and more barbarous times, must stick as a blemish upon Princes that do the contrary. Thus we see it was with Henry the Sixt, who after he had begun with abating the measure, he after fell to abating the matter; and granted commissions to Missenden and others to practise Alchymy to serve his Mint. The extremity of the State in general, felt this aggrievance besides the dishonour it laid upon the person of the King, was not the least advantage his disloyal Kinsman took to ingrace himself into the People’s favour to his Sovereign’s ruin.

When Henry the 8. had gained as much of power and glory abroad, of Love and Obedience at home, as ever any; he suffered shipwrack of all upon this Rock.

When his Daughter Queen Elizabeth came to the Crown, she was happy in Councel to amend that Error of her Father: For, in a Memorial of the Lord Treasurer Burleigh’s hand, I find that he and Sir Thomas Smith (a grave and learned man) advising the Queen that it was the honour of her Crown, and the true wealth of her Self and People, to reduce the Standard to the antient parity and purity of her great Grand-Father King Edward 4, and that it was not the short ends of Wit, nor starting holes of devises that can sustain the expence of a Monarchy: but sound and solid courses: for so are the words. She followed their advice, and began to reduce the Monies to their elder goodness stiling that work in her first Proclamation, Anno 3. A famous Act. The next year following, having perfected it as it after stood; she tells her people by another Edict, that she had conquered now that Monster that had so long devoured them, meaning the Variation of the Standard: And so long as that sad Adviser lived she never (though often by Projectors importuned) could be drawn to any shift or change in the Rate of her monies.

To avoid the trick of Permutation, Coyne was devised, as a Rate and measure of Merchandize and Manufactures; which if mutable, no man can tell either what he hath or what he oweth, no contract can be certain; and so all commerce; both publique and private, destroied; and men again enforced to permutation with things not subject to wit or fraud.

Edition: current; Page: [187]

The regulating of Coyne hath been left to the care of Princes, who are presumed to be ever the Fathers of the Common Wealth. Upon their honours they are Debtors and Warranties of Justice to the Subject in that behalfe. They cannot, saith Boden, alter the price of the monies, to the prejudice of the Subjects, without incurring the reproach of Faux Monnoyeurs. And therefore the Stories terme Philip le Bell, for using it, Falsificateur de Moneta. Omnino Monetæ integritas debet quœri ubi vultus noster imprimitur, saith Theodoret the Gothe to his Mint-Master, Quidnam erit tutum si in nostra peccetur Effigie? Princes must not suffer their faces to warrant falshood.

Although I am not of opinion with Mirros des Justices, the antient book of our Common Law, that Le Roy ne poit sa Mony Empeirer ne amender sans l’assent de touts ses Counts, which was the greatest Councel of the Kingdome; yet can I not passe over the goodnesse and Grace of money of our Kings: (As Edward the 1. and the 3., Henry the 4. and the 5. with others, who, out of that Rule of this Justice, Quod ad omnes spectat, ab omnibus debet approbari, have often advised with the People in Parliament, both for the Allay, Weight, Number of peeces, cut of Coynage and exchange;) and must with infinite comfort acknowledge, the care and Justice now of my Good Master, and your Lordships Wisedomes; that would not upon information of some few Officers of the Mint, before a free and careful debate; put in execution of this Project that I much (under your Honours Favour) suspect, would have taken away the Tenth part of every man’s due debt or Rent already reserved throughout the Realme, not sparing the King; which would have been little lesse then a Species of that which the Romaine Stories call Tabulæ novæ, from whence very often seditions have sprung: As that of Marcus Gratidianus in Livie, who pretending in his Consulship, that the Currant money was wasted by use, called it in, and altered the Standard; which grew so heavy and grievous to the people, as the Author saith, because no man thereby knew certainly his Wealth, that it caused a tumult.

In this last part, which is, the Disprofit this enfeebling the coyne will bring both to his Majestie and the Common Wealth, I must distinguish the Monies of Gold and Silver, as they are Bullion or Commodities, and as they are measure: The one, the Extrinsick quality, which is at the King’s pleasure, as all other measures; to name; The other the Intrinsick quantity of pure metall, which is in the Merchant to value. As there the measure shall be either lessened or inlarged, so is the quantity of the Commodity that is to be exchanged. If then the King shall cut his shilling or pound nominall lesse than it was before, a lesse proportion of such Commoditie as shall be exchanged for it must be received. It must then of force follow, that all things of Necessity, as Victuall, Apparell, and the rest, as well as those of Pleasure, must be inhaunced. If then all men shall receive, in their shillings and pounds, a lesse proportion of Silver and Gold than they did before this projected Alteration, and pay for what they buy a rate inhaunced, it must cast upon all a double losse.”

Thus, then, my notions upon this subject are by no means novel, though they have been so loudly reprobated by the clans of ’Change Alley. Here this learned man, and faithful and honest counsellor of his king, shows how nations have been ruined and oppressed by arbitrary changes in the value of money; and all that is here said of coin is equally applicable to Edition: current; Page: [188] paper. My good Paper-money Men, you will perceive, that the breach of faith is here ascribed to him who changes the value of the money; and, have not you been guilty of this breach of faith? It was not the nation, it was not those who borrowed, who changed the value of the money. It was you; and, you see, that one of these old lawyers would have called you clippers and counterfeiters. “No contract can be certain,” says this great man, if the value of the money can be changed; and I am clearly of his opinion, that all contracts, effected in this way, are, in fact, broken by a force, with regard to which the parties contracting have no control.

Is the nation, then, bound, is any individual bound to adhere to the letter of a contract, which has thus been broken by a force not to be resisted? Good faith requires, that the interest of the Debt should instantly be lowered one-half in amount; and yet we constantly hear it said, that to lower it all would be a breach of faith! Sir Robert Cotton had very different notions upon this subject. He regarded it as a crime in any man, or any body of men, even to talk of a change in the value of the currency; and, in speaking of the punishment due to this crime, he seems to have cast his eye forward! It may possibly be useful to you to hear what he says upon this very ticklish part of the subject.

“And His Majesty shall lose apparently by this alteration of monies a 14th in all the silver, and a 25th part in all the gold he shall receive: so shall the Nobility, Gentry, and all others, in all their former settled rents, annuities, pensions, and loans of money. The like will fall upon Labourers and workmen in their yearly wages: and as the receipts are lessened thereby; so are their issues increased, either by raising all prices, or disfurnishing the market, which must necessarily follow. For, if, in the fifth year of Edward the Sixth, the third of Mary, and fourth of Elizabeth, it appeareth by the Proclamations, that a rumour only caused these effects, punishing the author of these reports with imprisonment and pillory: it cannot be doubted but the projecting a change must be of farre more consequence and danger to the State, and would be wished that the Actors and authors of all such DISTURBANCES in the Commonwealth, at ALL TIMES HEREAFTER, might undergo a punishment proportionable.

Thus, then, my good Paper-Money Fellows, we turn the table upon you! You, it is, who have made all the “disturbances in the Commonwealth.” You are the evil-minded and designing men. You are the seducers. You, it is, who have been working to produce an utter “subversion of the laws and constitution” of the country. But, faith! it is not a rumour that you have set forth; it is not the projecting of a change of which you have been guilty; it is the making of the change itself, and that, too, both forward and backward, which you have been guilty of. What, then, ought, according to this learned man, be your punishment? If merely spreading a rumour of such a change being intended, merited imprisonment and pillory; and if the projecting of such a change merited a far greater punishment than prison and pillory; what ought to be the punishment of those who have actually made such change, and that, too, as I have before proved, over and over again, to their own benefit? Come, now! say yourselves what punishment such men deserve. You are a pretty sort of people to combine and issue out Declarations against those who are suffering the pangs of ruin and hunger from your changes of the currency, while you are wallowing in wealth, and lending to the Bourbons the fruit of the land and the labour of England! You Edition: current; Page: [189] are a pretty sort of people to talk of your loyalty to your King and your anxiety for the peace of your country! You, who have produced the slavery, the distress, the misery, the abject and disgraceful condition of a people once so free and so happy.

And, do you think, you are to carry things thus for ever? Do you think that you are to continue to convey the earnings of the people of these unhappy islands over to the Continent, there to fructify the soil, and to give wealth and strength to those who hate and will seek to destroy us? Do you think, that you are always to be gay, and to chuckle with delight at the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act? Do you think, that the misery and slavery of the nation are always to be with you subject of sport? Do you think, that your tauntings and revilings of the Parliamentary Reformers are never to recoil upon yourselves?

I would advise you to be more moderate in your joy at the suspension of the people’s liberties, and their (to you) apparently everlasting subjugation. For, take my word for it, that this state of things will not last for ever; no, nor for two years. Your props are at their wit’s end. They have two things to look to, money, and the means of getting it. All that you look to is the money. But they must consider a little about the means; and they will soon discover, that, though a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act has raised the funds, it will not assist in raising taxes.

Your case is plain. Every body understands it. Every body wishes to see the principles of Sir Robert Cotton acted upon. But, here is the true history of your being supported so long. The Borough Gentlemen, those worthy, those loyal and public-spirited souls, would demolish you right quickly; but, then! What then! Why, the springing of the mine under this main bastion of corruption, would make a breach through which the Reformers would enter! This is the true history of the thing. You are as necessary to the Seat-owners as the Seat-owners are to you. You hate one another most cordially. They hate you, because you are keeping them poor; because their lands are upon tick to you; because you stick yourselves up along side of them, out-do them in expense, thrust your noses in their face, and, like the bailiffs in the play of the “Good-natured Man,” humble them in the eyes of each other, by your freedom and familiarity, which, were it not for the length of your purses, would earn you a beating from the hands of their groom. For these reasons, they hate you; and you hate them, because they have titles, and particularly family pretensions, which the possession of millions of “Consols” (what a word!) will never give you. You do get, and have already got, a good many of their manors and mansions and parks; but, you cannot get the family names of the owners, and the family pretensions. Your wives and daughters may twist up their mouths and talk about the “peasantry and the population,” in speaking of the people; they may put on all the airs of the gentry, and, if they do not find an old Gothic mansion to their hands, they may make you build one out of the gains of your Scrip; but, still, they know, that the old gentry soon smoke you. Country people are very inquisitive. You may have a thousand fine things about you; your wives may dress as fine as the cream coloured horses; but, the old gentry will trace you back to Mincing-lane in a twinkling. This they do; and, in revenge for your display of wines and plate and fineries, they now and then, as it were by Edition: current; Page: [190] accident, kindly invite you to talk a little about your fathers and mothers. For this you hate them, and all the Boroughmongering tribe.

Still you pull together, because your union of effort is necessary to prevent Reform. Part, however, you must, in the course of a very few years, or you will be a mutual destruction, as you have been a mutual support; and, when that parting comes, then comes happiness to the country.

For the reason before mentioned, it is not to be expected, that the Parliament will do anything, in the way of reduction of interest, till the last moment. But, there are so many projects on foot; so many nostrum-mongers are at work; there is such a shifting of plans and grounds, that the thing cannot possibly go on long. Besides, the mischief is so busily and so powerfully at work in all the walks of life. The poison is so active and is of so deadly a nature, that a cure, or death, must speedily come. And, that there is no cure short of a sponge, general or partial, I am certain. The scheme for getting the journeymen and labourers to make savings to put into the funds, and, thus, to make them all fundholders, would, if it could succeed, only induce them to array themselves against the landholders and not leave them either acre or stump of tree; but, it is too ridiculous to talk of, except as it is, amongst many others, a proof of the desperate quackery that is on foot.

However, time will show us what is to be done; and, for the present, I leave you to your dear associates and your agreeable reflections.



William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
21st March, 1817
My Beloved Countrymen,

Soon after this reaches your eyes, those of the writer will, possibly, have taken the last glimpse of the land that gave him birth, the land in which his parents lie buried, the land of which he has always been so proud, the land in which he leaves a people, whom he shall, to his last breath, love and esteem beyond all the rest of mankind.

Edition: current; Page: [191]

Every one, if he can do it without wrong to another, has a right to pursue the path to his own happiness; as my happiness, however, has long been inseparable from the hope of assisting in restoring the rights and liberties of my country, nothing could have induced me to quit that country, while there remained the smallest chance of my being able, by remaining, to continue to aid her cause. No such chance is now left. The laws, which have just been passed, especially if we take into view the real objects of those laws, forbid us to entertain the idea, that it would be possible to write on political subjects according to the dictates of truth and reason, without drawing down upon our heads certain and swift destruction. It was well observed by Mr. Brougham, in a late Debate, that every writer, who opposes the present measures, “must now feel, that he sits down to write with a halter about his neck;” an observation the justice of which must be obvious to all the world.

Leaving, therefore, all considerations of personal interest, personal feeling, and personal safety; leaving even the peace of mind of a numerous and most affectionate family wholly out of view, I have reasoned thus with myself. What is now left to be done? We have urged our claims with so much truth; we have established them so clearly on the ground of both law and reason, that there is no answer to us to be found other than that of a suspension of our personal safety. If I still write in support of those claims, I must be blind not to see that a dungeon is my doom. If I write at all, and do not write in support of those claims, I not only degrade myself, but I do a great injury to the rights of the nation by appearing to abandon them. If I remain here, I must, therefore cease to write, either from compulsion or from a sense of duty to my countrymen; therefore, it is impossible to do any good to the cause of my country by remaining in it; but, if I remove to a country where I can write with perfect freedom, it is not only possible, but very probable, that I shall, sooner, or later, be able to render that cause important and lasting services.

Upon this conclusion it is, that I have made my determination; for, though life would be scarcely worth preserving, with the consciousness that I walked about my fields, or slept in my bed, merely at the mercy of a Secretary of State; though, under such circumstances, neither the song of the birds in spring, nor the well-strawed homestead in winter, could make me forget that I and my rising family were slaves, still there is something so powerful in the thought of country, and neighbourhood, and home, and friends; there is something so strong in the numerous and united ties with which these and endless other objects fasten the mind to a long-inhabited spot, that to tear oneself away, nearly approaches to the separating of the soul from the body. But, then, on the other hand, when I asked myself:—“What! shall I submit in silence? Shall I be as dumb as one of my horses? Shall that indignation which burns within me be quenched? Shall I make no effort to preserve even the chance of assisting to better the lot of my unhappy country? Shall that mind, which has communicated its light and warmth to millions of other minds, now be extinguished for ever; and shall those, who, with thousands of pens at their command, still saw the tide of opinion rolling more and more heavily against them, now be for ever secure from that pen, by the efforts of which they feared being overwhelmed? Shall truth never again be uttered? Shall her voice never again beheard, even from a distant shore?”

Edition: current; Page: [192]

Thus was the balance turned; and, my countrymen, be you well assured, that, though I shall, if I live, be at a distance from you; though the ocean will roll between us, not all the barriers that nature as well as art can raise, shall be sufficient to prevent you from reading some part, at least, of what I write; and, notwithstanding all the wrongs, of which I justly complain; notwithstanding all the indignation that I feel; notwithstanding all the provocations that I have received, or that I may receive, never shall there drop from my pen any thing, which, according to the law of the land, I might not safely write and publish in England. Those, who have felt themselves supported by power, have practised towards me foul play without measure; but, though I shall have the means of retaliation in my hands, never will I follow their base example.

Though I quit my country, far be it from me to look upon her cause as desperate, and still farther be it from me to wish to infuse despondency into your minds. I can serve that cause no longer by remaining here; but, the cause itself is so good, so just, so manifestly right and virtuous, and it has been combated by means so unusual, so unnatural, and so violent, that it must triumph in the end. Besides, the circumstances of the country all tend to favour the cause of Reform. Not a tenth part of the evils of the system are yet in existence. The country gentlemen, who have now been amongst our most decided adversaries, will very soon be compelled, for their own preservation, to become our friends and fellow-labourers. Not a fragment of their property will be left, if they do not speedily bestir themselves. They have been induced to believe, that a Reform of the Parliament would expose them to plunder or degradation; but they will very soon find, that it will afford them the only chance of escaping both. The wonder is, that they do not see this already, or, rather, that they have not seen it for years past. But, they have been blinded by their foolish pride; that pride, which has nothing of mind belonging to it, and which, accompanied with a consciousness of a want of any natural superiority over the labouring classes, seeks to indulge itself in a species of vindictive exercise of power. There has come into the heads of these people, I cannot very well tell how, a notion that it is proper to consider the labouring classes as a distinct caste. They are called, now-a-days, by these gentlemen, “the peasantry.” This is a new term as applied to Englishmen. It is a French word, which, in its literal sense, means country folks. But, in the sense in which it is used in France and Flanders and Germany, it means, not only country people, or country folks, but also a distinct and degraded class of persons, who have no pretensions whatever to look upon themselves, in any sense, as belonging to the same society or community, as the gentry; but who ought always to be “kept in their proper place.” And, it has become, of late, the fashion to consider the labouring classes in England in the same light, and to speak of them and treat them accordingly, which never was the case in any former age.

The writings of Malthus, who considers men as mere animals, may have had influence in the producing of this change; and, we now frequently hear the working classes called “the population,” just as we call the animals upon a farm “the stock.” It is curious, too, that this contumely towards the great mass of the people should have grown into vogue amongst the country gentlemen and their families at a time when Edition: current; Page: [193] they themselves are daily and hourly losing the estates descended to them from their forefathers. They see themselves stript of the means of keeping that hospitality, for which England was once so famed, and of which there remains nothing now but the word in the dictionary; they see themselves reduced to close up their windows, live in a corner of their houses, sneak away to London, crib their servants in their wages, and hardly able to keep up a little tawdry show; and, it would seem, that, for the contempt which they feel that their meanness must necessarily excite in the common people, they endeavour to avenge themselves, and at the same time to disguise their own humiliation, by their haughty and insolent deportment towards the latter: thus exhibiting that mixture of poverty and of pride, which has ever been deemed better calculated than any other union of qualities to draw down upon the possessors the most unfriendly of human feelings.

It is curious, also, that this fit of novel and ridiculous pride should have afflicted the minds of these persons at the very time that the working classes are become singularly enlightened. Not enlightened in the manner that the sons of Cant and Corruption would wish them to be. The conceited creatures in what is called high life, and who always judge of men by their clothes, imagine that the working classes of the people have their minds quite sufficiently occupied by the reading of what are called “religious and moral tracts.” Simple, insipid dialogues and stories, calculated for the minds of children seven or eight years old, or for those of savages just beginning to be civilized. These conceited persons have no idea that the minds of the working classes ever presume to rise above this infantine level. But these conceited persons are most grossly deceived: they are the “deluded” part of the community; deluded by a hireling and corrupt press and by the conceit and insolence of their own minds. The working classes of the people understand well what they read; they dive into all matters connected with politics; they have a relish not only for interesting statement, for argument, for discussion; but the powers of eloquence are by no means lost upon them; and, in many, many instances, they have shown themselves to possess infinitely greater powers of describing and of reasoning, than have ever been shown generally by that description of persons, who, with Malthus, regard them as mere animals. In the Report of the Secret Committee of the House of Lords, it is observed, that, since the people have betaken themselves to this reading and this discussing, “their character seems to be wholly changed.” I believe it is indeed! For it is the natural effect of enlightening the mind to change the character. But, is not this change for the better? If it be not, why have we heard so much about the efforts for instructing the children of the poor? Nay, there are institutions for teaching full-grown persons to read and write; and a gentleman, upon whose word I can rely, assured me, that, in a school of this sort, in Norfolk, he actually saw one woman teaching another woman to read, and that both teacher and pupil had spectacles upon their noses! What, then! Has it been intended, that these people, when taught to read, should read nothing but Hannah More’sSinful Sally,” and Mrs. Trimmer’s Dialogues? Faith! The working classes of the people have a relish for no such trash. They are not to be amused by a recital of the manifold blessings of a state of things, in which they have not half enough to eat, nor half enough to cover their nakedness by day or to keep them from perishing by night. They are Edition: current; Page: [194] not to be amused with the pretty stories about “the bounty of Providence in making brambles for the purpose of tearing off pieces of the sheep’s wool, in order that the little birds may come and get it to line their nests with to keep their young ones warm!” Stories like these are not sufficient to fill the minds of the working classes of the people. They want something more solid. They have had something more solid. Their minds, like a sheet of paper, have received the lasting impressions of undeniable fact and unanswerable argument; and it will always be a source of the greatest satisfaction to me to reflect, that I have been mainly instrumental in giving those impressions, which, I am very certain will never be effaced from the minds of the people of this country.

Do those who pretend to believe that the people are deluded, and who say that these laws are not aimed against the people, but merely against their seducers; do these persons really imagine, that the people are thus to be deceived? Do they imagine, for instance, that the people who read my Register, will not in this case, regard any attack upon me, as an attack upon themselves? It is curious enough to observe how precisely the contrary the reasoning of these persons is in all other cases. An attack upon the Clergy is always deemed by them to be an attack upon Religion. An attack upon the King is always deemed by them to be an attack upon the Nation. And it is very notorious, that in all criminal cases, the language of the law is, that the offence has been committed against the peace of the realm, and in contempt of the king, his crown, and dignity. Yet, in the present case, the leaders of the Reformers are to be supposed to have no common interest with the Reformers themselves; and it appears to be vainly imagined, that millions of men, all united in petitioning, in the most peaceable and orderly manner for one particular object, will be easily persuaded to believe, that those who have taken the lead amongst them may be very properly sacrificed, and that, too, without any injury at all to the cause! What should we think of an enemy in the field, who were to send over a flag of truce, and propose to us to give up our Generals? Only our Generals! That is all! The enemy has no objection to us: it is only our Generals that he wants; and, then, we shall have peace with him at once. There was once, the Fable tells us, a war between the Wolves and the Sheep, the latter being well protected by a parcel of brave and skilful Dogs. The Wolves set on foot a negotiation, the object of which was everlasting peace between the parties, and the proposition was this on the part of the Wolves, that there should be hostages on both sides; that the Wolves should put their young ones into the hands of the Sheep, and that the Sheep should put their Dogs into the hands of the Wolves. In evil hour the Sheep agreed to this compact; and the very first opportunity, the Wolves, having no longer any Dogs to contend with, flew upon the fleecy fools and devoured them and their lambs without mercy and without mitigation.

The flocks of Reformers in England are not to be “deluded” in this manner. They will well know, that every blow, which is aimed against the men who have taken the most prominent part in the cause of Reform, is aimed against that cause itself and at every person who is attached to that cause, just as much, just as effectually, as a blow aimed at the head of a man is aimed at his fingers and his toes.

The country gentlemen, therefore, will never see the day when the Edition: current; Page: [195] working classes will be again reconciled to them, unless they shall cordially take the lead amongst those working classes. This, I am in hopes, they will do; for, every day of their lives will make their own inevitable ruin more and more manifest. But, whether they do this or not, the consequences of the present measures will, I am convinced, be the same. They will only tend to make the catastrophe more dreadful than it would otherwise have been. The Funding System will go regularly on producing misery upon the back of misery, and irritation upon the back of irritation. It is that great cause which is constantly at work. Nothing can stop its progress, short of a reduction of the interest of the Debt; and as that measure seems to be rejected with obstinacy as persevering as are the destroying effects of the system itself, nothing can reasonably be expected but a violent dissolution.

The nation will recollect how confidently the Ministers spoke last year of a speedy restoration to prosperity. Mr. Vansittart talked in a very gay and flippant style, about the raising of fourteen millions in taxes, in order to keep up the Sinking Fund, which fourteen millions, he said, would return back to the country to enliven manufactures, commerce, and agriculture. The words were hardly out of his mouth, when I told you, that, if the fourteen millions did return back to the country, it would only be for the purpose of transferring fourteen millions worth more of the property of the Landowners, the Shipowners, the Manufacturers, the Farmers, and the Traders, from them to the pockets of the Fundholders and the Sinecure Placemen and Pensioners, together with all those who lived upon the taxes. But, all the former classes are now become so reduced in point of property; all their property has so fallen in value, that they have now nothing to offer in pledge for the money which the Fundholders have to lend them; and the consequence of this is, that we now behold the curious spectacle of a loan made by the Fundholders to the Government of France. This loan is stated at ten millions sterling. And now, my friends, pray observe what a traffic is here going on! These ten millions of money have been raised in taxes upon us to pay the interest of the debt or part of it. The Fundholders, having got this money into their possession, lend it to the Government of France, because we, who pay the taxes, are become too poor; our property is fallen too low in value for the Fundholders to lend it to us; and thus ten millions-worth of the income of the gentlemen and of the fruits of the labour of the people, are conveyed over to another nation, which must tend to give life to agriculture and trade and manufactures in that nation, in just the same degree, that the operation tends to depress and ruin our own country. To make this as clear as daylight, let us suppose the Isle of Wight to be cut off from all trade and all interchange of commodities with the rest of the kingdom. Let us suppose that all the people in the Isle of Wight are compelled to pay a great portion of their incomes and of the fruit of their labour every year to be sent over and expended in the rest of the kingdom; and that no part of what they thus pay is to go back again to the Isle of Wight, except the interest of it. Is it not evident, that the Isle of Wight must shortly become most wretchedly poor and miserable? Will not the proprietors there get rid of their property as fast as they are able, and will they not get away into the other parts of the kingdom? Yes, and this is what the people of England are now doing with regard to France. Edition: current; Page: [196] The property of England is now going away, and all those who are able, and who do not live upon the taxes, are following the property as fast as they can. To take a single instance; suppose me to be living in the parish of Botley, or rather, to suppose something nearer the reality; suppose Mr. Eyre, who does live there, and who having a landed estate to the amount, perhaps, of two or three thousand pounds a-year, and who, being a very good master, very hospitable and kind to all his neighbours, employing great numbers of them, and expending the greater part of his clear income amongst them, were, instead of so expending his income, to lend it to the Government of France, and to receive from that Government the interest only every year. It is clear, that instead of two thousand pounds a-year to expend among his neighbours, he would have only two hundred pounds a-year to expend amongst them. Here would be a falling-off of eighteen hundred pounds a-year, which, at thirty pounds per family, would take away the means of living from sixty families. If this mode of disposing of Mr. Eyre’s income would deprive sixty families of the means of living, the loan which has been made to the Government of France by the Fundholders, through the agency of the Barings and others, must deprive of the means of living thirty-three thousand three hundred and thirty-three families! And this is a truth, my good and perishing countrymen, which I defy the William Giffords, the apostate Southeys, and all the herd of sinecure and hired writers to controvert. The interest, you will perceive, will come back again to England, and may possibly be expended amongst the people of England, but all the principal will be expended in France to animate French manufactures, commerce, trade, and agriculture, all of which will be fed by the ruin of England.

The same will be going on, in other shapes, with regard to other foreign countries, and especially with regard to America. For can it be believed, that men, in the farming and trading line, will remain here to give their last shilling to the Fundholders, and to see their families brought to the workhouse, while a country of freedom extends its arms to afford protection to their property as well as to their persons? At this very moment hundreds of farmers are actually preparing to remove themselves and their property to America, and many are now upon the voyage. Now, then, let us see what will be the effects of operations of this sort. A man, who rents a farm, we will suppose, determines not to remain any longer under such a state of things. He sells off his stock, amounting we will say, to five thousand pounds. He turns this stock into money, and he carries the money to America. In England he gave employment and paid in Poor-rates the means of supporting about twelve or fourteen families. Whence are to come the means of supporting these families when he is gone? There is no one to supply his place; for there are thousands of farms now lying waste. These families, therefore, must go to augment the already intolerable burden of the Poor-rates; they must go to add to the immense mass of misery already existing, while the farmer himself, though he has lost, by the low price of his stock, two-thirds of his fortune, carries away the remainder, together with his valuable industry and skill, to add to the agriculture of America; to give employment to families there, to add to the population and power of that country; and to congratulate himself on his escape from ruinous taxation, and his family upon their Edition: current; Page: [197] escape from the horrors of a poor-house. And who can blame such a man? He must still love his country; but the first law of nature, self-preservation, imperiously calls on him to abandon it for ever!

Yet, such is the attachment to country, in the breast of every good man: so great are the powers of those feelings which bind men, and particularly the country-people, to the place of their birth; so numerous and so strong are the ties which restrain them from an abandonment of their homes, that emigration is a thing which they would have avoided as they would have avoided death, under any circumstances but the present; but now, when they have no prospect of an end to the calamities of the country; when instead of that relief, which peace was promised to bring, they feel their burdens not only already doubled by the operations of the paper-money and funding system, but daily and hourly increasing; when they see the ablest and most industrious of their labourers daily dropping into the ranks of the paupers; when they see their former wealthy and provident acquaintances reduced, one after another, to bankruptcy, and their families taking shelter here and there under the roof of charity; when they behold all this, and when to all this is added the reflection, that, in a time of profound peace, and without any insurrection or any commotion in the country, laws have been passed to take away the personal safety of every man, to expose free conversation to the malignant construction of spies and informers, to render the intercourse between man and man dangerous and even perilous, and, in short, to embitter and to curse every moment of their lives, there is no room for balancing; remove they must, if they have any spirit left in them, and if they have the means to remove; for to remain is certain misery, more than probable ruin, and possible death, though every action of their lives may be perfectly innocent, and even meritorious.

From these causes and many others that might be mentioned, the country must, as long as this state of things lasts, go on declining and perishing. Its means of meeting the demands of the unrelenting funding system will daily diminish; and, therefore, there is no remedy, let Mr. Curwen talk as long and as big as he will, but that of reducing and nearly annihilating, that thing which is called the National Debt, and also reducing the expenses of the army to a tenth part of what it now is. And, indeed, it is the Debt which has created and which keeps up the army, for which there would be no occasion were it not for the weight of the taxes, which weight of taxes, is the effect of the Debt.

The great question now to be determined is, WHETHER THE BOROUGHMONGERS CAN CARRY ON THE MILITARY AND SUSPENSION SYSTEM AFTER THE FUNDING SYSTEM IS DESTROYED. This system, this order of things, an immense standing army, with corps of yeomanry established all over the country, with the Press under the superintendence of the Magistrates, and with the personal safety of every man taken from him; this system I call the Boroughmonger System, it having been notoriously adopted in order to resist and to crush the petitioners for Parliamentary Reform. Now, then, I am quite sure that the funding system cannot last long. I am quite sure of that. I know it with little less certainty than I know, that winter will follow the next summer. It may last two years, perhaps, and it may not expire wholly before the end of three or four years; but I defy any measures, any powers, or any events, to save it from destruction Edition: current; Page: [198] at the end of a few years. The question, therefore is, not whether the funding system will be destroyed; nor is it a question, whether the boroughmongering system will continue as long as the funding system continues; for I am convinced that it will, seeing that it appears to me impossible to carry on the funding system any longer without the boroughmongering system. But, the grand and vital question is, whether the boroughmongering system can support itself amidst all the uproar and turmoil of the breaking up of the funding system; and whether it can go on and consolidate and perpetuate itself in this country. This is the great question, my countrymen, upon which you have to exercise your judgment. This is the question, the solution of which will determine the fate of England; and I frankly own to you, that it is a question which appears to me more difficult to settle than any one which ever before presented itself to my mind. You may have perceived a great change of tone in those who formerly talked so boldly about the endless resources of the country. They begin now to falter in their accents. They are frightened at the work of their own hands. They have surrounded themselves with all the securities which an army and the absolute power of imprisonment at pleasure can give them; but, be you assured, that they tremble within. They are scared at the desolation which they have brought upon the country. They are compelled to smile upon the fundholders; and yet they would fain that there were no such people in existence! Baffled in all their projects and prospects, they know not which way to turn themselves. Their progress seems to be like that of the Gamester in Hogarth, and their situation at this particular stage is nearly approaching to that of his, when, having ventured and lost his last desperate stake, you see him gnashing his teeth, holding up above his head his two clenched fists, stamping upon the floor, and muttering curses, while the fundholders, who sit round the table, are sneering and scoffing at his demoniac agitations.

Some time ago, it was their project to cause the Bank to pay again in specie; and, agreeably to that project, they issued the new silver currency. It appears to be now their project to get fresh quantities of paper again afloat; and, if they can do that, the first effect of it will be the disappearance of the new silver currency, which, though inferior to sterling value, will never long continue to circulate amidst such additional quantities of paper as will produce any sensible effect in the raising of prices and in the lowering the real amount of taxation. I do not clearly see the possibility of augmenting the quantity of paper in circulation, seeing that the proprietors of lands and of goods have nothing to offer in pledge for it. But, besides, if it were to be effected, what tremendous mischief would it produce! Suppose the paper thus put out to reduce the value of the currency one-third. A man who has made a contract to-day to receive three hundred pounds at a distant day, would in fact receive only two-thirds of what he had contracted for. This real breach of contract would take place with respect to all bargains made at this time, or recently made; all mortgages, bonds, leases, annuities, yearly wages of servants, and every thing else of that description. Goods, sold on long credit, would share the same fate; and as there is perhaps many millions-worth of goods always sent to foreign countries upon long credit, when the money comes to be paid, it would be paid in a currency of one-third less in value than the currency calculated upon when the goods were sold. Thus a merchant abroad, Edition: current; Page: [199] who must now send three hundred pounds sterling to discharge his debt to his creditor here, would, in fact, have to send only two hundred pounds sterling in real money; because, two hundred pounds in real money would purchase three hundred pounds in the paper that would then be afloat.

Here, then, the waves of the system, by suddenly taking a roll in this new direction, would overwhelm a new class of the community; and by this time, the discredit of the paper would become so notorious to the world, that the people of all foreign nations would keep aloof from it; would begin to shake their heads, and exclaim, “Babylon the Great is fallen!”

What I am disposed to think, however, is, that this project for getting out new quantities of paper-money will not succeed; and yet, without it, the interest of the Debt cannot be paid out of the taxes; for though standing armies, and Sedition Bills, and Habeas Corpus Suspension Bills, are dreadfully powerful things, their power is not of that kind which enables people to pay taxes. In all human probability, then, the whole of the interest of the Debt and all the sinecures and pensions and salaries, and also the expenses of a thundering standing army, will continue to be made up, by taxes, by loans from the Bank, by Exchequer bills, by every species of contrivance, to the latest possible moment, and until the whole of the paper system, amidst the war of opinions, of projects, of interests, and of passions, shall go to pieces like a ship upon the rocks. And THEN comes the question: CAN THE BOROUGHMONGERING SYSTEM OUTLIVE THIS TREMENDOUS WRECK? If it can; if the army can still be kept up, and if the personal safety of all the people can still be suspended, if this breach between the two systems does NOT LET IN REFORM, it is hard to say how very low this country is to be sunk in the scale of nations. It would, in that case, become so humbled, so poverty-stricken, so degraded, so feeble, that it would, in a few years, not have the power, even if it had the inclination, to defend itself against any invader. The people would become the most beggarly and slavish of mankind, and nothing would be left of England but the mere name, and that only as it were for the purpose of reminding the wretched inhabitants of the valour and public spirit of their forefathers.

Let us hope, however, that this is not to be the fate of our country. Let us hope that she is yet to be freed of the mill-stone that hangs around her neck. As for me, I shall never cease to use the best of my endeavours to save her from the dangers which threaten her utter destruction; and, I hope you will always bear in mind, that, if I quit her shores for awhile, it is only for the purpose of being still able to serve her. It is impossible for any man not to see clearly, that the sole choice now is between silence and retreat. Corruption has put on her armour and drawn her dagger. We must, therefore, fall back and cover ourselves in a way so as to be able to fight her upon more equal terms. The Giffords, the Southeys, the Walters, the Stuarts, the Stoddarts, and all the hireling crew, who were unable to answer with the pen, now rush at me with their drawn knife, and exclaim, “Write on!” To use the words of the Westminster Address, they shake the halter in my face, and rattle in my ears the keys of the dungeon, and then they exclaim, with a malignant grin, “Why do you not continue to write on you coward?” Edition: current; Page: [200] A few years ago, being at Barnet fair, I saw a battle going on, arising out of some sudden quarrel between a butcher and the servant of a west-country grazier. The butcher, though vastly superior in point of size, finding that he was getting the worst of it, recoiled a step or two, and drew out his knife. Upon the sight of this weapon, the grazier turned about and ran off till he came up to a Scotchman who was guarding his herd, and out of whose hand the former snatched a good ash stick about four feet long. Having thus got what he called a long arm, he returned to the combat, and, in a very short time, he gave the butcher a blow upon the wrist which brought his knife to the ground. The grazier then fell to work with his stick in such a style as I never before witnessed. The butcher fell down and rolled and kicked; but, he seemed only to change his position in order to insure to every part of his carcase a due share of the penalty of his baseness. After the grazier had, apparently, tired himself, he was coming away, when happening to cast his eye upon the knife, he ran back and renewed the basting, exclaiming every now and then, as he caught his breath, “Dra thy knife wo’t!” He came away a second time, and a second time returned and set on upon the caitiff again; and this he repeated several times, exclaiming always when he recommenced the drubbing, “Dra thy knife wo’t!” Till, at last, the butcher was so bruised, that he was actually unable to stand, or even to get up; and yet, such, amongst Englishmen, is the abhorrence of foul fighting, that not a soul attempted to interfere, and nobody seemed to pity a man thus unmercifully beaten.

It is my intention to imitate the conduct of this grazier; to resort to a long arm, and to combat Corruption, while I keep myself out of the reach of her knife. Nobody called the grazier a coward, because he did not stay to oppose his fists to a pointed and cutting instrument. My choice, as I said before (leaving all considerations of personal safety out of the question) lies between silence and retreat. If I remain here, all other means will be first used to reduce me to silence; and, if all those means fail, then will come the dungeon. Therefore, that I may still be able to write, and to write with freedom, too, I shall write, if I live, from America; and my readers may depend on it, that it will not be more than four months from the date of this Address, before the publication of the weekly pamphlet will be resumed in London, and will be continued very nearly as regularly as it has been for years past. My main object will be to combat Corruption; but, I shall also be able to communicate some very useful information; especially as I shall now have, at one and the same time, the situation of both countries under my eye. If it be said, that I cannot expect to get any one here to print, or publish, what I write in America, I ask, then, what is the use of writing here, seeing that the same obstacle would exist as to what should be written in England. Besides, I shall be as careful as I have been, not to write any thing that even a special jury would pronounce to be a libel. I have no desire to write libels. I have written none here. Lord Sidmouth was “sorry to say,” that I had not written any thing that the law-officers could prosecute with any chance of success. I do not remove for the purpose of writing libels, but, for the purpose of being able to write what is not libellous. I do not retire from a combat with the Attorney-general, but from a combat with a dungeon, deprived of pen, ink, and paper. A combat with the Attorney-general is quite unequal enough. That, however, I would have encountered. I know too well what a trial by special jury is. Yet Edition: current; Page: [201] that, or any sort of trial I would have stayed to face. So that I could have been sure of a trial of whatever sort I would have run the risk. But, against the absolute power of imprisonment without even a hearing, for time unlimited, in any jail in the kingdom, without the use of pen, ink and paper, and without any communication with any soul but the keepers; against such a power it would have been worse than madness to attempt to strive. Indeed, there could be no striving in a case, where I should have been as much at the disposal of the Secretary of State as are the shoes which he has upon his feet. No! I will go, where I shall not be as the shoes upon Lord Sidmouth’s and Lord Castlereagh’s feet. I will go where I can make sure of the use of pen, ink, and paper; and these two Lords may be equally sure, that in spite of every thing that they can do, unless they openly enact or proclaim a censorship on the press, or cut off all commercial connection with America, you, my good and faithful countrymen, shall be able to read what I write. In my letter to Earl Grosvenor, I said that something very near to the chopping-off of my hand, or the poking out of your eyes, should be done, before I would cease to write and you would cease to read. What has been done would not be very far from this, if I were to remain here; but, when I wrote that sentence, I had a full knowledge of what was going to be done, and I had also resolved upon the course to pursue in order, as far as related to myself, to defeat its intention.

And now, my countrymen, before I set off, let me caution you against giving the smallest credit to any thing that Corruption’s press may assert of me. You have seen what atrocious falsehoods it has put forth in my presence; what, then, will it not do in my absence? I have written thousands of letters to various persons in all parts of the kingdom. I give any one leave to make public any letter of mine, accompanied by the certificate of any respectable friend of mine, that it is in my handwriting. I challenge all those whom I ever conversed with to say, that I ever uttered a wish to see overthrown any one of the Constitutional establishments of the kingdom; and, I most solemnly declare, that I never associated with any man, who professed, even in private, to entertain any such wish; but, on the contrary, all those, with whom I have ever been intimate in politics, have always had in view the preservation of all the establishments and orders of the kingdom as one of the objects of a timely Reform of the Parliament.

The sacrifice I make would, under any other circumstances, be justly considered as enormous. The ceasing of a profit of more than ten thousand pounds a year from my works; the loss of property of various sorts, left scattered about in all manner of ways; the leaving of numerous friends and of local objects created under my own hands, and affording me so many pleasing sensations. But, all this weighs nothing, when compared with the horrid idea of being silenced; of sneaking to my farm and quietly leaving Corruption to trample out the vitals of my country, while her infamous press was revelling in unexposed falsehoods and calumnies levelled against myself and my friends: compared to this, no loss of fortune, no toils necessary to support a numerous family, no poverty, no bodily suffering; there is nothing of this kind that must not appear trifling, and even wholly unworthy of notice, when compared with the loss of that satisfaction which I shall now derive from still retaining the power of combating Corruption, and from the hope that I Edition: current; Page: [202] shall never cease to entertain of returning to my beloved country in the day of the restoration of her freedom.

Every species of falsehood, deception, imposture, will Corruption now resort to, in order to blacken my character, to disfigure my motives, and to diminish the effect of my writings. But, my countrymen, if you have witnessed so much of all these while I was present, I need not fear that you will believe in them when I am absent. In more than ten publications, the writers have taken my name, and made me the author! They will now play off this trick more than ever. But, the matter of their publications will soon undeceive you. Nothing will be sent by me but “Cobbett’s Weekly Political Pamphlet,” and nothing will be of my writing, which will not have at the foot of it the name of the same gentleman, whose name will appear as the publisher of the address. However, I am not much afraid of your being imposed upon in this way, for, amidst the crowd of writers, I hope you will now as easily distinguish my voice as a lamb does that of its mother, though there be hundreds of others bleating at the same moment.

A mutual affection, a powerful impulse, equal to that out of which this wonderful sagacity arises, will, I hope, always exist between me and my hard-used countrymen: an affection, which my heart assures me, no time, no distance, no new connections, no new association of ideas, however enchanting, can ever destroy, or in any degree enfeeble or impair. The sight of a free, happy, well-fed and well-clad people will only tend to invigorate my efforts to assist in restoring you to the enjoyment of those rights and of that happiness, which are so well merited by your honesty, your sincerity, your skill in all the useful arts, your kind-heartedness, your valour, and all the virtues which you possess in so supereminent a degree. A spendid mansion in America will be an object less dear to me than a cottage on the skirts of Waltham Chase or of Botley Common. Never will I own as my friend him who is not a friend of the people of England. I will never become a subject or a citizen in any other state, and will always be a foreigner in every country but England. Any foible that may belong to your character, I shall always willingly allow to belong to my own. All the celebrity which my writings have obtained, and which they will preserve, long and long after Lords Liverpool and Sidmouth and Castlereagh are rotten and forgotten, I owe less to my own talents than to that discernment and that noble spirit in you, which have at once instructed my mind and warmed my heart; and my beloved countrymen, be you well assured, that the last beatings of that heart will be, love for the people, for the happiness and the renown of England; and hatred of their corrupt, hypocritical, dastardly and merciless foes.


P.S. There will, of necessity, be about three months before the Weekly Political Pamphlet will be revived; but, in the meantime, my readers will find occupation in reading over and over again what I have addressed to them within the last five or six months. I beseech them to keep all the nice little books that they have got; not to be humbugged by any of the publications of Corruption; they will find all my foretellings come true. I exhort them to exercise all the patience and fortitude they are masters of; and not to be inveigled into any foolish and Edition: current; Page: [203] fruitless attacks upon bakers and butchers and the like; never to give up one jot of their right to Parliaments chosen annually, and to a vote for every man twenty-one years of age; and never to give up the hope that this right will be restored to them along with that happiness to which their industry and honesty and public spirit justly entitle them. They may be assured, that if I have life for only a year or two at farthest, I shall be back with them again. The beautiful country, through which I have so lately travelled, bearing upon every inch of it, such striking marks of the industry and skill of the people, never can be destined to be inhabited by slaves. To suppose such a thing possible would be at once to libel the nation and to blaspheme against Providence. Let my readers not fear my finding out the means of communicating to them whatever I write. They will see the Political Pamphlet revive and be continued, until the day when they will find me again dating my addresses to them from London or from Botley.



Ending with the Passing of the Absolute-Power-of-Imprisonment Act, in the Month of March, 1817. Addressed to Mr. John Goldsmith, of Hambledon, and Mr. Richard Hinxman, of Chilling, who were the Chairman and Seconder at the Meeting of the People of Hampshire on Portsdown Hill, in the Month of February, 1817, to Petition for a Redress of Grievances, and for a Reform in the Commons House of Parliament.


William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
June 10, 1817
My Worthy and Beloved Friends,

A Revolution the most extraordinary has taken place in our country. The Revolution of 1688 was a nothing, in point of importance, compared with that which we have now witnessed. Then the Royal Family and the line of descent of the Crown were changed, because a tyrant had grossly violated some of the fundamental laws of the land; but now, all the fundamental laws of the land stand abrogated by Acts of the Parliament. In England, in that same England, which was the cradle of real liberty and just laws, or, at least, which was the spot, where law and justice and freedom were preserved while despotism reigned over the rest of the world; in that England, which was so long held by the world to exhibit an example of all that was desirable in politics and in jurisprudence; Edition: current; Page: [204] in that England, whence the wise and brave men who first settled this now happy country brought all those principles of law and of government, which, by being adhered to, have been the cause of that happiness and virtue which are here everywhere apparent; in that same England what do we now behold? The very thought, though I am here beyond the reach of the evil, wrings my heart. We behold a system of taxation that has spread ruin, madness and starvation over the land; a band of Sinecurists, Pensioners, Bankers, and Funders, who strip the land of all its fruits, except the portion which they share with the standing army who aid them in the work of seizing on those fruits; a people who have no voice in the choosing of those, who make laws affecting their property and their lives; a House of Commons, the sale and barter of seats in which has, within its own walls, been acknowledged to be as notorious as the sun at noon-day; and, finally, in answer to the nation’s petitions for a redress of this enormous grievance, the cause of every calamity, we behold Acts passed by this same House of Commons, which have taken from the people all liberty of the press, all liberty of speech, and all the safety which the law gave to their very persons, it being now in the absolute power of Ministers to punish any man whom they may please to punish, in the severest possible manner short of instant death, not only without any trial by jury, but without any trial at all; without hearing him themselves in his defence; without letting him know the cause of his punishment; without telling him who are his accusers; and without any appeal, now or hereafter, from their decisions! They, or any one out of three of them, have the power to send for either of you at any hour; to cause you to be conveyed away to any jail in the kingdom; to be put into any dungeon or cell; to be deprived of pen, ink and paper; to be kept from all communication with wife, child, friend, or any body else; to be locked up in a solitary cell; to be kept in a damp or stinking hole; and to be kept without any limit as to time, other than what their own sole will and pleasure may dictate.

Such is the present state of England, and, thanks to the virtue and valour of our brethren on this side of the Atlantic, I have the power to describe that state to the world, a power, which I certainly should not have had, if the people of this country had not successfully resisted the attempts of our Government in 1814 and 1815, when Sir Joseph Yorke said, in the House of Commons, that there was Mr. President Madison yet to be put down; and, when the Times newspaper told the then deceived people, that regular Governments never could be safe, until the world was deprived of the “dangerous example of successful democratic rebellion;” or, in other words, that the Boroughmongering System never could sleep in quiet, while there was one free country left on the face of the earth. The Times was right. The “Holy Alliance” is of no avail as long as this country remains what it now is. Hither, at last, all the oppressed, who harbour the just desire to resist, may come; and, in the end, resistance would go from here, if it were to arise from no other quarter.

The Revolution which has taken place in England is not seen in its true character without our taking some time to look at all its parts. We are too apt to speak of it merely as a Suspension of the Act of Habeas Corpus; but, this is by no means doing the thing justice. That Act is, indeed, rendered nugatory; but, that is merely incidental. That Act, which was passed so late as the reign of Charles II., merely Edition: current; Page: [205] provided some checks to false imprisonment, and more clearly defined the remedy; but, in all times, since England has been England, the law of the land was, that no man could be imprisoned, except by due course of law, and due course of law included all the circumstances of informations, warrants by ordinary magistrates, previous examinations, confronting with accusers, commitments stating the precise crime, and a delivery or trial at the next Sessions or Assizes. This was the due course of law in England long before the Norman Conquest, and it always continued to be due course of law. The Act of Habeas Corpus only defined more precisely the remedy in case of violations, or neglect of observance of this due course of law.

Therefore, the Absolute-Power-of-Imprisonment Act does not call itself an Act to Suspend the Act of Habeas Corpus, which would have left the law as it stood before that Act was passed. Those who have made the Revolution knew what they intended too well to give their Act that title or that effect. They call it an Act to “empower his Majesty to imprison any person that he may suspect to be guilty of treason, or treasonable practices.” We all know, that his Majesty has nothing to do with the matter; and, the provisions of the Act very explicitly state that this dreadful power is lodged in other hands.

It is clear, then, that (without going into the Acts against the liberty of speech and of the press) by this one Act, all the fundamental laws of the land are effectually put an end to, seeing that it places every one’s person at the absolute disposal of the Ministers, and, if the very body of a man be not safe, what absurdity is it to talk about property! That man, who has no safety for his person cannot be said to possess any thing. We are told by the hirelings of the press, that it is only the “disaffected” that this Revolution need to make uneasy. That is to say, only those whom the Ministers and Boroughmongers may dislike. But, what more is asked for by the Dey of Algiers, or by any Bourbon that ever existed? They do not want to kill or imprison all their people. That would not suit their purpose. They do not destroy even those whom they know to hate them, provided they be still and give them no annoyance. But, the moment any one, who possesses the means, discovers the inclination to oppose or thwart them, that moment they begin to suspect him, and then they proceed to punish. They want to do nothing more. This is all that arbitrary government has ever wanted to do; and this is what the Ministers in England are now empowered to do by Act of Parliament! That they will not exercise this power against the “well-affected;” that is to say, against their own partisans, is sure enough; nor will they exercise it against sham opponents like the Morning Chronicle, nor against impotent opponents like the Independent Whig. But, it is not less sure, that they will exercise it against every man, who possesses the means, and the will at the same time, of opposing their unjust, and exposing their foolish measures.

Why were there laws to protect men’s persons and property? Why was there a trial by jury for every alleged offence? The reason was, that no man should be in danger from the power of those who exercised the great functions of administering law and justice. These laws were not intended to protect those whom the Government had no dislike to, but those whom it might dislike. These laws were not intended to protect those who stood in need of no protection, but those who did stand in need of it. These laws were intended to Edition: current; Page: [206] prevent men in authority, or powerful men of any description, from hurting those whom they might regard as “disaffected” towards them; and, yet, forsooth, we are to think nothing of the abrogation of all these laws, because they put in jeopardy “only the disaffected!”

The Dey of Algiers proceeds against his “disaffected” by chopping off their heads, and our Ministers proceed against their “disaffected” by shutting them up in prison during their pleasure, in any jail in the kingdom, and deprived of light, warmth, and all communication with relations and friends, if they please. That is all the difference, and, of the two, the Dey’s power is, according to Blackstone, the less hateful and dangerous. There is this further difference indeed: that the Dey’s power extends to every person in his dominions, whereas the Boroughmongers, in giving the Ministers this dreadful power over the rest of the nation, not excepting the females of the Royal Family, have made an express clause to except their precious selves! At least, no Member of either House can be shut up without a notification to the House, and, of course, without a hearing of some sort or other.

You will want nothing to convince you, then, that a real and total Revolution has taken place in England; and, it is a duty which we owe to mankind, to our country, to ourselves and our children to trace, if we possess the means, this great event to its true causes. This is what I shall now do in the best manner that my abilities will enable me. I intend, after a short view of the previous period, to give a minute account of the transactions of the Last Hundred Days of English Freedom, in which transactions I was so principal an actor, and of every thing belonging to which I was so well acquainted. And, I address myself to you, my friends, upon this occasion, because you are amongst the men, for whom I have the greatest personal regard, for whose public spirit and understandings I have the greatest respect, and because you were my associates in the proposing and carrying of that memorable Petition, which the honest people of our country approved of and signed upon Ports-down-hill, which Petition contains a fair and modest statement of the chief of the nation’s grievances and desires, by which Petition I am sure you will stand to the last moment of your lives.

You, who live constantly in the country, and who are necessarily engaged in your own private affairs the far greater part of your time, had no knowledge of many things, which took place in London, during the interesting period of which I mean to treat, and the detail of which, as it is necessary to you, and, in some instances, will fill you with astonishment, is, of course, much more necessary to be communicated to the people of England at large.

But, before I proceed to the performance of this duty towards my country, it is necessary that I say something of what I am doing in order to take care of myself and family, which will not only be extremely interesting to you, but, I flatter myself, will be not uninteresting to many, many thousands of my countrymen, to many of whom (wholly unknown to me personally) I have to return my unspeakable thanks for their attention and their offers of service, solid substantial service, to my wife, who was left behind me in circumstances so very trying. Indeed, the wife and children of a man, chiefly for the purpose of stifling whose writings (loyal and legal as every line of them was) a Revolution has been made in the government of a great nation, may reasonably be deemed objects of interest and of care with men, who know how to estimate talent and Edition: current; Page: [207] zeal, who love truth, justice, and fair play, and who mourn over the disgrace of their country, exhibited in the at once mean and outrageous acts of its Government in opposition to the talents of one single man, unassisted and unsupported by any thing on earth but the resources of his own mind, and those, too, unassisted by any trick, any craft, any finesse, any disguise of any sort, or by the employment of any blandishments or flatteries towards any human being.

For the future, my kind and good friends, my mode of reasoning, my intentions, and my prospects, are these. I will be as frank with you and with the world as I would be with my own bosom.

It is impossible that England can remain long in its present state. That is altogether impossible. More must be done, or that which is done must be undone; and, if the latter take place, and I am alive, I shall return. If the former take place: if a direct censorship of the press be adopted, which it must be very soon, and if it become evident, that this sort of Bourbon government is to remain as long as force will uphold it, I shall, of course, not go to live under that government, knowing very well that the warrants of Lords Sidmouth and Castlereagh are much more to be dreaded even than the thunderbolts that struck the ship, in which I sailed beyond the reach of those warrants.

In the meanwhile, that is to say, while I wait to see the events which will arise out of the Bourbon measures and out of the workings of our good old friend, the National Debt, I must eat and drink, say you. Very true, and, though a little serves me and all belonging to me, I have not the least doubt that we shall be able to get a plenty of both from the earth, which is never niggardly towards those, who will apply to her with earnestness and with care. To the earth, therefore, the untaxed earth, I will apply. It would be affectation to pretend, that I have not the means of living here by my pen; but it is my intention to be a downright farmer, and to depend solely upon what I can get in that way. I begin by counting upon nothing but what I can raise from the ground. If any thing else does come my children will be so much the richer, though they may not, perhaps, be so much the happier. I shall, I trust, set an example to my children, that, though suddenly bereft of fortune, no one need despair, who has freedom, industry and health.

Whatever I send to be published in England I shall publish here in some shape or another, and, as you will see, though I have been so ill-treated by those who govern England, I shall never turn my back upon my country or my countrymen. There are persons here, who will think well of no Englishman, who will not only distinctly and explicitly disclaim all allegiance to the King, but all regard for his country. I will do neither. I owe allegiance to the King as much as any American owes allegiance to the laws of his country. I cannot, if I would, according to the laws of England, get rid of it. And, as to my country and my countrymen, my attachment to them can never be equalled by my attachment to any other country or people. I owe a temporary allegiance to this country, and am bound to obey its excellent laws and Government. I am even bound to assist in repelling my own countrymen, and to consider them as enemies, if they attack this country. All this I owe in return for the protection I receive. I owe, besides, great gratitude to this sensible and brave people and to their wise, gentle, and just Government for having preserved from the fangs of despotism this one spot of the globe. I owe to them my freedom at this moment. I owe to them that Edition: current; Page: [208] I am not shut up in a dungeon instead of being seated in safety and writing to you. These are great claims upon my gratitude, and my feelings towards the Government and the People are fully commensurate with those claims; but, as to the changing of allegiance, or the denying of my country, it is what I shall never do. England, though now bowed down by Boroughmongers, is my country; her people are public-spirited, warm-hearted, sincere and brave; common dangers, exertions in common, long intercourse of sentiment, and the thousands upon thousands of marks of friendship that I have received, all these have endeared the people of my own country to me in a peculiar manner. I will die an Englishman in exile, or an Englishman in England free.

I was well aware of the violent hostility, in some persons, to the very name of England, before I left my country; and I resolved, accordingly, not to place myself in the way of disappointing any one who might expect me to become her assailant. It was this reason which induced me to leave the City of New York in twenty-four hours after landing in it. I came over to this island the next day after my landing, and here, I dare say, I shall remain as long as the National Debt and the Bourbon System will exist, unless I make a tour into New England, where I never have been, and which country I have a great desire to see.

Here, then, we are with mutton not so fine as that of Hambledon, and lamb, less early and fine than that of Chilling; but, we have many good things which you have not; and, what is better than all the good things put together, we have not only no Secretary of State’s Warrants, but of all the good things every man, woman and child has an abundance. The salt, the very salt, which our neighbour Chiddel sells you for 20 English shillings a bushel, is brought here and sold to us for three English shillings a bushel. But, then, we here have not the honour to see any such man as our neighbour Garnier, whose grandfather was an honest coachman to George the First, and who, for a long life, has had a sinecure of twelve thousand pounds sterling a year, paid him out of those taxes, which make neighbour Chiddel’s salt so dear in England, and which tax being taken off when the salt is exported, makes us buy it so cheap.* Is there never to be an end to these things? Are they to be endured for ever? Mrs. Hinxman might here lend her pony to a friend for a week without her husband being surcharged and made, on that account, to pay the horse-tax for a year. Here your wives might, as good farmer’s wives did in England in former times, and as they do here now, turn their fat into candles, and their ashes and grease into soap, without your being either fined or imprisoned for the deed. Here poor Chalcroft of Cager’s Green would have no need to pull down, in consequence of an exciseman’s threat, the hop-poles that the hops were climbing up out of his garden hedge. Here you might, without any risk of loss of estate or of ears, turn your own barley into malt, and your honey into metheglin. Here you might travel from Jericho to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem to Babylon (for all these places are in this Island) and never meet, not only not a beggar, but scarcely a person walking on foot, as almost every body rides in some way or other. And here my son William’s Edition: current; Page: [209] pretty little miniature mare, which has taught my children to ride, would not have cost me one hundred pounds sterling in tax, as she has done in England, when the original cost of herself was only four pounds, saddle and all.

But, though I say, and I mean, to place my sole dependence for a living, upon the fidelity of the earth, I beg you not to suppose, that I mean to cease, for one moment, in my efforts to aid in the restoration of the freedom of my country. That shall be the constant object of my life. That nothing shall prevent me from pursuing, and by all the means, of all sorts, that my mind can invent, or that it can avail itself of. If the Bourbon system be rendered so complete as to make it impossible for any one to publish my writings in England, you may depend on their being always published here. They will find their way to England somehow or other; and, though the circulation will not be so wide, it will be something. And, all this while, how will the Boroughmongers stand? They have stripped me of a large fortune; but for how long can they do it? As long as they can uphold the Bourbon system, and not one moment longer.

The sons and daughters of Corruption harp a good deal upon the circumstance of my having taken away a few hundred pounds in ready money, when I said, in my notification from Liverpool, that I carried away nothing but my wife and my children. What! did they imagine that I counted it any thing to carry with me money enough to pay my passage and to furnish me with food and lodging for a few months? Did they imagine it to be any thing to have the means of putting myself on shore, when I left behind me a farm covered with stock of all sorts; a house full of furniture; an estate which, with its improvements, had cost me forty thousand pounds and which was mortgaged for less than seventeen thousand; copyrights which were worth an immense sum, and a current income from my writings of more than ten thousand pounds; under these circumstances was it too much to have a few hundred pounds in my own pocket, and to leave sufficient at the command of my wife for the purpose of bringing her and her children over to me? Did the sons and the daughters of Corruption grudge us this? Did they really expect that, in abandoning a fortune larger than has ever been possessed by Lord Sidmouth or any of his family; did they imagine that in making this enormous sacrifice, or, rather, in being driven from these the fair fruits of my industry and talents, I was going, not only to lead the life of a mendicant, but, which was of much greater importance, to deprive myself of the means of having a place where I might have room and warmth to carry on the struggle against the Boroughmongers? If they did imagine this, they were as ignorant as they are well known to be greedy and merciless.

However, if the Boroughmongers adopt measures which shall wholly and entirely prevent the circulation of my writings, I shall still possess the means of living happily and easily, and the Boroughmongers will live as happily as they can under their new system. While I was enjoying a comparatively trifling income in England from my writings; and had lost, during the last three or four years, large sums annually by my agricultural pursuits and by my purchases of land, in common with others, who were situated in that respect like myself; that is to say, who had been severely robbed, and thousands of them wholly ruined and brought to a jail, by the arbitrary change in the currency and by the Edition: current; Page: [210] other operations of the banking and funding system; as long as I remained in this state, Corruption took little notice of me. She knew very well, that the tax-gatherer would take care to keep me in a situation sufficiently humble as to pecuniary matters. But, when she saw that the resources of my mind had not only enabled me to set all the country to reading, and that, too, at so cheap a rate as to drive from the field all the tribes of “Religious Tracts” and “Moral Tracts” and “Amusing Tracts” and “Tracts for the Poor” and the “Lancastrian Tracts” and the “National Tracts;” when Corruption saw that my little publication had not only swept all these from the field, and had made the people, in the space of three short months ashamed of their own folly in having been amused by the puerile effusions of fanatics and the crafty baits of hypocrites; when she saw that my talents had not only produced this wonderful effect in so short a space of time, but had also opened to me a mine of wealth, in spite of the lowness of my prices and liberality of my allowances to dealers, which partook of that carelessness about money which has characterised all the transactions of my life; when Corruption saw that I must be rich in spite of myself, and that my fame and my riches were going on increasing together, then it was that she, aided by her infernal associate, ENVY, set herself to work! For some time Corruption knew not what to do. She tried various underhand means, in all of which she had the cordial co-operation of Envy. At last, driven to extremities by my perseverance in a strictly legal and loyal course, she resolved on open violence, which, however, she could not commit upon me without committing it, at the same time, upon the laws of the country. In the commission of these acts of violence, BALEFUL ENVY was her constant associate! And even at this moment the country owes all the acts that have been committed against it, as much, and even more, to envy than it does to corruption herself. Had it not been for the base, the detestable feelings of envy which prevailed at the opening of the present session of Parliament, those Acts which have been passed, never would have been passed. Of this matter I shall speak more in detail another time; but I repeat here, that the cause of Reform has suffered more from this detestable feeling of envy than it has suffered from all other enemies put together. When I say that it has suffered, I mean for the present; for as to the future, neither corruption nor envy can prevent its success. All that was contained in the Register was, with Envy, “Very good indeed; very true, very powerful; but Cobbett; the people talked of nobody but Cobbett! Why should Cobbett know more than any body else? why should he have all the praise?” The truth is, that I did not want it; that I never sought for it; that no man living was ever so ready to give praise to others, labouring in the same cause, as I have been; that no man living ever took such pains to draw public applause down upon the heads of others as I have; and, what is still more, that no other man living ever stood silent and heard so many others applauded to the skies, admired beyond all bounds of expression, for the very plumage IN WHICH HE HIMSELF HAD DECORATED THEM. How often, good God! have I, after having put words into men’s mouths; after having made wisdom come forth out of the mouths of babes and of sucklings; how often have I quoted these very words of my own as being their words, and took merit to myself for having had the diligence to select and republish their wise sayings! How often have I acted thus! How scrupulous have I Edition: current; Page: [211] been in observing the most impenetrable silence upon these matters, and, at last, to see Envy exerting all her malignant influence; keeping at one time, a glum silence, and, at another time, endeavouring to mar by her doubts and hesitations the cause of the people; merely because the spontaneous and universal sentiment of the nation had placed me at the head of that cause! To see this at last after all my ten or twelve years of disregard of fame; after all the millions of proofs that I had given of having no envy in my own disposition, was a little too much for me patiently to endure. It was very natural for men to wish themselves in my place. It was natural for them to wish that all the people in the kingdom should be reading and repeating their words; but it was not natural for them to say, or to act as if they had said: “Perish the cause of the people, rather than let it succeed without our being considered as the prime instrument of its success.” This was as unnatural, as unmanly, as base, and every way as wicked, as any of those acts of which we have ever complained. But, Envy will not succeed in the end. Nay, she has not succeeded even thus far; for, the very measures of which she has secretly approved, in the producing of which she has so mainly assisted, and in the adoption of which she has, within herself exulted, because they tended to check, and, as she hoped, to destroy the progress of that influence, the sight of which her eyes could not endure; those very measures have only the more loudly proclaimed my fame to the world, seeing that there is not one single individual in England, who does not well know, that all the new laws; that all the provisions in those laws; that all the reports, all the imprisonments, all the hatched plots, all the schemes and all the contrivances have been principally levelled at my writings. This is so well known, that every man in England would be deemed an idiot who affected to doubt it. Therefore, Envy, as far as things have gone, has only laboured to defeat her own purposes; and her ladyship may be well assured, that the part, which she has now to act, is a more difficult one than any she has ever acted before. To give her open approbation of what is going on at this time, she dares not. She cannot very well be silent while it is going on. Yet, if it goes on, it will be seen how impotent she is; and if it ceases, she has me and my writings back again to mortify her more than ever. * * * And now let us proceed to our history of the last hundred days of English freedom.

The cause of Reform was the subject of discussion. Disguise the matter how they will; talk as long as they please about plots and Spenceans, it was Reform that approached the Boroughmongers in such a formidable shape, and, against this it was that they armed themselves. This was no new cause: very far from it. The principle, that no man shall be taxed without his own consent is as old as England is, or at least, as the very oldest of the laws of England. This was, in fact, the cause of Hampden, the cause of Sidney; it was the cause of the Revolution in 1688, and it was the cause at the Revolution in 1817.

The American revolutionary war had the same basis. The Boroughmongers would insist upon taxing the Americans without suffering them to send Members to Parliament. These latter resisted, and their gallant and legal resistance was crowned with success. That war had brought on the nation such a burden of taxes, that the people looked to a real representation as their only safeguard for the future. The subject of Reform was agitated. Mr. Pitt, the Duke of Richmond, and hundreds of others, then stood forward in the cause of Reform. The latter, as you Edition: current; Page: [212] well know, brought a Bill into the House of Lords to effect this grand purpose. Mr. Pitt declared, that “no honest man could be minister without a Reform in the Commons’ House.” Mr. Wilberforce, too, was a Reformer. Pitt’s alliance with Dundas made him forget all his notions about Reform. But, so late as the year 1793, Mr. Grey, Mr. Sheridan, the late and present Dukes of Bedford, and many others, signed a petition, which was presented to the House of Commons, in which they state, that they are ready to prove at the Bar, that the people had no voice in choosing a majority of that House.

The French Revolution had now begun, and, as a real representative government had been established there, it was easy to see, that it would be quite impossible to keep the people of England quiet without a Reform, if the limited kingly government and a freely-chosen assembly were suffered to exist in France. Therefore, and for no other cause, it was resolved to go to war with the new Government of France, having first stimulated other powers to begin that war. The war succeeded in restoring the Bourbons, and in destroying freedom wherever she had raised her head on the Continent. But, in performing this work, the Boroughmongers contracted such a load of debt, that, at the close of the war, they found the nation completely ruined. They expected fine sunshine days for the rest of their lives; but, behold! they were worse off than before they began their war! They thought, that they had stifled the spirit of Reform for ever, but, they found, that all the evils of the country were speedily traced to the old source. Men asked each other what was the cause of this unexampled misery after so glorious a war. The taxes was the answer. And why not lessen the taxes? They are wanted for the Debt, the Standing Army, and the Staff and the Sinecure People and Pensioners. And why do all these exist in so enormous a degree? Because the House of Commons will not lessen the four latter, and because they have voted the Debt and used the money. And why have they done this? Because they have, for the far greater part, an interest in so doing. Why not choose other Members then? Because it is not the people who pay the taxes, who have the choosing. Why have they not then?

Thus was the matter brought home, and Reform again began to be rung in the ears of the honourable House, who, as it were to convince the people of the absolute necessity of that Reform, had, by a monstrous majority voted, only a few years before, that they would not hear evidence against Perceval and Castlereagh charging them with the actual sale of a seat in the House.

This was the position of things in the spring and summer of last year. Yet, it was my own opinion, that it was not prudent to urge on the question of Reform at that time. In the winter of last year, and about the month of February, I stated this my opinion very clearly to Major Cartwright, who had been for some time reproaching me with a backwardness in that cause. He, in a good-natured way, reproved me for wasting my great talents, as he was pleased to call them, on questions of political economy, in exposing the state of the finances, and in discussions about the Funding System, concluding with saying: “Let them settle their accounts as they will: let us have our rights.” “Yes,” replied I, “but, my opinion is, that, until they have settled their accounts, we never shall have our rights; or, at least, until all the world sees clearly that they never can pay in full the interest of the Edition: current; Page: [213]Debt.” This was my opinion for many years, and, therefore, I bent the greatest part of my force to this object: the making the subject of the Debt, in all its parts and bearings, familiar to the people. And, the knowledge, which is now possessed in England is quite surprising.

It was impossible to believe, that men, who possessed the seats, that is to say, who possessed all the real powers of the Government; who had, in fact, the appointment of the Ministers, the filling of all places of profit and of trust; the giving of all the commissions in the army and navy; the bestowing of all honours at the bar; the bestowing of the livings in what is called the gift of the Crown; and who, in short, possessed every thing in the country, having the power of taxing the people wholly in their hands: it was impossible to believe, that men so vested with power, and having a great standing army at their nod, would ever give up this mass of power and this mass of possessions, merely at the solicitation of an unarmed people. It was like petitioning an able man to give up his talents to you, or a handsome woman to give you up her beauty.

But, if some event were to happen, which would shake the Boroughmongers by their own means; some event which would make them stagger under their own weight; some event which would bring them to a stand, not knowing which way to turn themselves; then, indeed, they must give way, and do the people justice. I could suppose many events, that would have operated thus; but the event, which I was sure would be effectual, and which I was also sure would, sooner or later, take place, was the blowing up, or, at least, the total discredit of the Funding System, by a failure in the means of paying the interest of the Debt in full.

It was, therefore, my opinion, that it was not prudent to urge on the cause of Reform to what might be called a pitched battle with its enemies, until those enemies were at war amongst themselves; that is to say, until the Boroughmongers found themselves compelled to break with the Fundholders. Whenever that should happen, I saw, that the Boroughmongers would not only lose their best allies, but that those allies would be amongst the bitterest of their enemies; and that then, a Reform must take place, and in all human probability, in a peaceable and orderly manner.

To this opinion I held during the last summer, and now I draw near to that series of transactions, which have finally produced the Bourbon System in England. But this letter is already too long; I shall, therefore, not enter on these topics till my next; and, in the meanwhile, I remain your sincere friend,


P. S. I have this moment had pointed out to me by one of my sons a paragraph in the Independent Whig of the 30th of March, which I will notice here, merely because it contains a calumnious imputation, which may deceive some persons who have not been attentive observers of my conduct. The main object of the paragraph is to make the people of England, or that very small portion of them who read the Independent Whig, believe, that I had long planned my departure for America, and that I had long been writing in praise of everything American, in order to pave the way for this step. The income from my Register was never less than fifteen hundred pounds a year I believe. Not a thing to be Edition: current; Page: [214] cast off upon a speculation of better fare, with a sea voyage for a whole family as a prelude. But, let us hear this wise and patriotic Whig, well worthy to belong to the faction, whose name he has chosen to take.

“Our readers will perceive, in another department of our paper, a letter from ‘Mr. Cobbett to the Public,’ dated Liverpool, March 26, the contents of which, we are inclined to think, cannot excite much surprise, in those who have been accustomed to read the writings of that gentleman. It is to be recollected that Mr. Cobbett commenced his literary life in America. Without entering at present into any review of him as a public character, we feel, that to prove that he has long contemplated this act, we need only refer those who have been accustomed to read his lucubrations, to re-peruse his numerous letters, not long since published, to the American People—to the unqualified praise of everything American contained in those letters, and to the particular manner in which he had expressed himself, previous to the dreadful and arbitrary measures which the Ministers have resorted to, and which the Parliament had so fatally sanctioned, when predicting, as he did, with confidence, the success of the cause of Reform, and scouting, as he did, the idea of the enactment of the Gagging Bills, &c. It was clear to us (and we have for months past stated that such was our opinion), that Mr. Cobbett was satisfied in his own mind, that tyranny, and not liberty, would prove the result of his truly injudicious zeal. Let the Reader refer back to his late Publications, and he will find that Mr. Cobbett, when scoffing at the Courier for holding out the threat of coercive laws, as constantly as he adverted to that subject, invariably opposed the menace of the Courier, with the prediction of the loss of one-half of the population of the country, either in being killed in the opposing the enactment of such laws, or in emigrating to America, to elude their vengeance. It was clear to us, when we observed this kind of writing adopted by Mr. Cobbett, that he had made his own mind up to a voyage to America, and that all his political writings had for their object the promotion of his views in that country. We were additionally led to indulge this belief from the information we possessed that one of Mr. Cobbett’s sons had been for some time past, actually settled in America, as a Bookseller, and publishing his Register, printed here, in that country. Our opinion of Mr. Cobbett and his writings are upon record—we broached that opinion not only when he was here to defend himself, but when he was in the enjoyment of the climax of his popularity. We then stated that we considered he had greatly injured the cause of Freedom and Reform—such being our sentiments we placed them with our reasons upon record, as became us as Journalists, fearful of nothing so much as an abandonment of our public duty in any pitiful compromise of our independence. The solemn question that now remains for us to discuss, as it regards the political character of Mr. Cobbett, is, whether after having taken so active and conspicuous a part in the cause of Reform, and having taken so much pains to make proselytes, to his own constantly wavering opinions, the quitting his country and turning his back upon the thousands whom he had succeeded in making converts to his opinions, is the act of a Patriot? Previous to our entering upon this inquiry we will wait for the publication promised by Mr. Cobbett, which is to explain his own motives, and after we have had the opportunity of perusing it, we will, with the strictest liberality and impartiality, place upon record our undisguised and genuine sentiments.—We have as decided a hatred to tyranny as Mr. Cobbett, or any other man in existence can have.—We would rather perish the first of Freemen than live the last of Slaves, but the love we have been taught to cherish for our country has instructed us to consider it our first and most imperious duty to exert, at all risk, the best energies of our minds in the defence and support of the common freedom of our countrymen.—The hour of danger is the time for the brave man to be at his post.—When the country most wants the service of a patriot, that, of all others, is the moment to try his zeal and prove his fidelity.—Were every public-spirited writer to follow the example of Mr. Cobbett, and fly to the shores of America, because such men, such drivellers of Statesmen as Castlereagh and his aspiring crew, have succeeded in the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus and the enactment of Gagging Bills, &c.—to what a state of degradation would the character of Englishmen be reduced.

Pope says, that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.Swift says, that if a man of real talent comes forth and commands general attention, “straight a swarm of dunces rise up, and endeavour to sting Edition: current; Page: [215] him to death.” Solomon says, that there is nothing new under the sun. All which sayings the Independent Whig has done his best to verify.

Now, as to the “long-contemplated act,” Mr. Hinxman knows that I last year sowed about a million of ash seeds, and that, this last winter I caused to be collected many bushels more to sow next year, as they lie one year in sand previously to being sown. And this I was doing while I was writing those letters to the Americans, which excited the suspicions of the sagacious Mr. White, of the Independent Whig. And, as for that “SON” of mine, whom this sharp-sighted gentleman had discovered to be settled in America and republishing my Registers there, if he had been sober for any portion of the last twelve months, he must have known that son to be a nephew, that he was sent out to publish what I dared not publish in England, and that all the plan and the departure of my nephew, and the whole thing was publicly stated in the Register in England, in February 1816. He may know further, if he will, that, in January last, I sent for this nephew and his partner (whom I used to call my embassadors) to come home to England, and that one of them was upon the point of sailing when I myself arrived at New York! So much for the “long-contemplated act.” But, how this poor envious man must have blushed, if blushing had not long forsaken him, when he saw, in the next week’s Address, that I explicitly state my resolution never to become a citizen of America! He would then, I should hope, blush too for saying that I had “turned my back upon many thousands of converts.” You, my worthy friends, and my countrymen in general, will have seen by this time, whether I have turned my back upon England, or upon Englishmen.

But he (brave man!) will remain at his post! And there he may remain as quietly as one of his staring posting-bills, and without attracting any more attention from the Ministers than those bills do from the public. He, indeed! What danger is he in? His very abuse of me is a sufficient security to him, and that he knows very well. He need not, however, resort to such means: his intrinsic impotence is quite enough to protect him against the warrants of Secretaries of State. It is the mastiff and not the mouse that those gentry wish to muzzle. He will (generous creature!) be always at the service of his country, but what service? I have caused to be published, since my departure, more of that one Address (to maul which he was preparing his fangs), in one single day’s sale, than he publishes of his paper in a whole year! And, in all probability there has been more sold of that Address before now, than he will publish of his paper in three years. So that, supposing my matter to be equal to his in quality, and, surely one may suppose that without any very great degree of presumption, I have only to write and send over one Register in three years to equal this devoted patriot in point of magnitude of service to my country. He asks to what a state of degradation the character of Englishmen would be reduced, if every public-spirited writer were to follow my example. If every such writer (and there are many such) could do it, he would do it. For, what is it to my readers, whether I am at Botley, or in London, or on Long Island; unless, indeed, we could suppose, that, while they applauded the writings, they liked to know that the writer’s personal liberty, and perhaps his life, were in continual danger? And, if what I write here cannot be published in England, of what service to my country would it be for me to have remained in it?

The truth is, that, of all the envious men in the world, this man is the Edition: current; Page: [216] most shameless in the exposing of his envy. When he talks of the effects of his having abused me sometime back, he speaks feelingly; for it cost him one-half of his readers. Yet, I never rejoiced at this. On the contrary, when people from the country have spoken to me about dropping his paper, I have always said: “O! no! Though he says spiteful things of me, he now-and-then publishes good things. Don’t drop his paper. He is an ill-conditioned, envious man; but, I dare say, his paper will do you no harm, and I am sure it will do me none.” I have used almost these very words to twenty different persons. I knew very well that his paper was sold to the Whig faction; but I thought his senseless rant against us would do us good rather than harm.

Mr. Bell, in his Weekly Messenger, had the candour and wisdom to observe, on the same 30th of March, that my taking up my Citizenship in America would be allayed by the payment of 5000 dollars, the amount of a fine imposed on me for a libel in this country. Poor Mr. Bell was deceived. His envious malice blinded him. I have no Citizenship to take up, Mr. Bell, and no fine to pay and never had. I paid 5000 dollars for an American having, in my paper, condemned the late Dr. Rush’s practice of physic, which practice, as far as I recollect anything about it, consisted in bleeding people to death to save their lives. But, I can excuse you, Mr. Bell. A man does not like to be left without readers, and particularly without payers for reading. Your falling off has been too shocking for any man to endure with patience. But, come, do not despair. A little veering about, if it does not recover your readers, may bring you your old grist from the Treasury: only, pray bear in mind, that an honest Parliament may call you to account and make you refund. Walter and Stewart will have a long account of this sort to settle; and, though Stewart affects to treat seriously the charge of the Stamp-Office against my son, he must end his career pretty quickly, or, I verily believe, that that very son is likely to be one of those who will make a real charge against him for what he may be found indebted to the people of England. Indeed, these hirelings smell danger at a great distance. Their efforts in support of corruption are now, in their motive, like those which passengers on board a ship make to keep her from sinking. They are all now embarked in the same bottom with the Boroughmongers, and they must sink or swim with them. However, it will be prudent in them to begin to prepare their accounts, which are of very long standing, and which must be settled. I would hunt the money in their hands to the last penny. I have seen a letter in Walter’s father’s own hand, in which he states, that the Treasury paid him seven hundred pounds for his fine and expenses, on account of a libel on the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York! This was a pretty use for these loyal gentlemen to apply the public money to. Let them all prepare their accounts, I say, and that will furnish amusement for them in these dull times of the Gag. The people do not know one-half of the motives of these men for supporting corruption. But, a little time will bring the whole to light; and then we shall see the stuff that their loyalty is made of. It is very hard that they should be riding about in their carriages, while those who have paid the taxes that have enriched them are starving. These impudent men always speak of the mass of the people as if they were speaking of so many brutes. They have no idea of a day of reckoning. That vile wretch of the Times spoke of poor Cashman as if he had Edition: current; Page: [217] been a dog. If the poor fellow had had his two hundred pounds instead of Walter’s father having received seven hundred for libelling two of the Royal Family, he would now have been alive, in all probability, and doing well. Time: time; give us only a little time; and justice will be done to everybody.



Continuation of the History down to the Opening of the Parliament.Postscript. Base Calumnies of Mr. Perry.—Mr. Curwen’s Poor-law Project.—Report on Sinecures.

William Cobbett
Cobbett, William
June 13th, 1817
My Worthy and Beloved Friends,

Such, as I described it in my last letter, was my opinion, in the summer of 1816, upon the expediency of urging on the question of Reform. As the autumn approached, those persons who had been before so pressing upon the subject, became more and more pressing, and they began to make an impression upon me. The cause was always good; it was, at all times, just for us to demand our rights; it was at all times clear that the nation never could be happy till those rights were restored; but, though it be right and just to demand a thing, the expediency is also to be taken into view. It is at all times just to endeavour to destroy an enemy that has landed on the shores of our country; but the time of making the attack upon him may be so manifestly ill-calculated to produce the desired effect, that such attack may almost be criminal.

Mr. Hinxman will recollect, that, as he and I went from Botley to Appleshaw fair, in October last, I stated to him all my doubts as to the success of the cause of Reform, as long as the Boroughmongers should be able to raise money enough to pay the fundholders in full. Yet, such was the state of things as to the general distress and misery of the nation, that the time, in all other respects, seemed to be propitious; and at last, after long debating in my mind, I determined on yielding to the pressing request of others and to try what could be done. And, here it will be observed by the Ministers and by their hirelings, that I acknowledge the truth of their charge, in and out of Parliament; that we took advantage of the distressed state of the people. To be sure we did; and had we not a right so to do? Were we not justified in this by Edition: current; Page: [218] every principle of morality and by every consideration of duty? Was it not our duty to call upon the people to demand a Reform, when they were tasting of all the evils of a want of Reform; was it ever yet deemed unfair to assail an enemy at a moment when his affairs at home were in a difficult state? Did not the kings of Europe first sow the seeds of trouble in France, and then fall upon the Republican Government? We had not sown the seeds of trouble. We had brought no evils upon the country. It was the Boroughmongers themselves who had brought all the sufferings upon the people; and, were we not to take hold of the occasion to call upon the people to demand those rights, the having been deprived of which was the grand cause of all these sufferings? Besides, I had, for twelve years, been predicting, that the nation would be brought into this state unless a Reform was adopted: and, when this state was actually arrived; when all my predictions were amply accomplished, was I to hold my tongue? Was I, who had always contended that this great object of Reform was the main object to be attained, to say no more about it because the moment was arrived when all the evils of a want of it were felt? It was no further back than the Battle of Waterloo when I had been abused, insulted, scoffed at, for my predictions as to the miseries that would arise from the funding system, particular pains were taken by many to insult me by anonymous letters. To abuse me in the vilest terms. To ask me what was now become of all my prophecies. And when the hour of distress actually had arrived, I was to hold my tongue! Again it is very notorious, that, during the wars against France, and afterwards against America, the most sedulous and most successful efforts were made to deceive the people; to keep them in the dark; to mislead them; to render them wholly insensible to the voice of truth and of justice. And, now, when sad experience of the effects of those wars came to my aid, I was to be silent; I was to reject the powerful aid of such an ally: and was to leave, as far as my silence would contribute to that effect, the people to ascribe their miseries to any cause but the true cause! And, all this, into the bargain, to accommodate my good friends, the Boroughmongers, by whom I had myself been persecuted almost to death!

So much for their charge of our having taken advantage of the distresses of the country, which charge, in one short phrase, is no other than what a murderer might bring against his prosecutor, who should produce the evidence of surgeons in support of his case. But, though our cause was just; though it was fair to take advantage of the state of the country to forward that cause; still there was the consideration of expediency as to time; and my own opinion was, that the time was not come to urge on the question with the best chance of success. But, pressed very much by those for whose opinions I had, and still have, a very great respect, I thought it right to devote a paper or two to the subject; and, therefore, as I had no business myself at Appleshaw fair, Mr. Hinxman went thither without me, while I remained at Middleton Cottage and wrote that essay which is entitled, “What good would a Reform of Parliament now do?” This was No. 15, of Volume 31, and is dated at Middleton Cottage, 12th of October, 1816. The succeeding Number, which was written from home, was to show, “In what manner a Reform can take place without creating Confusion.”

These two Numbers, though at the old price of one shilling and a halfpenny, produced a very great effect. No. 17 was an Address to the Edition: current; Page: [219] Reformers in general, having for its object to enforce what had been before said. No. 18, which was dated at Botley, on the 2nd of November, was the first cheap Register, and the history of its origin will show what mighty effects may spring from causes merely accidental. During the Spring and Summer of 1816, there had been many acts of violence committed upon bakers, butchers, millers, and other dealers in the first necessaries of life. Threshing-machines had been destroyed; mole-ploughs had been burnt; mills had been destroyed; and, while in the towns, the people, in the fury of their hunger, were falling upon the shops of bakers and butchers, they had, in many places in the country, laid furious hands on the barns and ricks of corn and hay. The fatal result of the disturbances in the Isle of Ely was fresh before our eyes; and it became a subject of deep lamentation with me, that every part of the people did not clearly see the real causes of their misery, and that they should be thus induced to commit acts of violence upon their innocent neighbours and fellow-sufferers. At the same time, the hirelings of the press, especially the Times, the Courier, and some of the Weekly Papers, were labouring constantly to persuade the people, that the dealers in the necessaries of life charged too high a price, in which they were aided by many of the magistrates; and, of course, the remedy for the people was to compel those persons to charge a lower price, and, as that could be done only by acts of violence, acts of violence were committed, and then these same writers were the first to cry out against rioting, and to call for the blood of the rioters! What I have stated here, as to fact, is notorious throughout the kingdom.

Some time in the month of September, and about two months previous to the epoch of the famous No. 18, I was conversing on this subject with a neighbour, and, we both agreed that, if the people could but be enabled to see the matter in its true light, there would be an end to all such acts of violence at once, and, of course, to the ignominious deaths of fathers and sons, and the miseries of wives, children, and parents, produced in the end by those acts of violence. My neighbour was of opinion that it was in my power to effect this desirable purpose by writing an essay upon the subject. But, though I had a strong desire to do it, I was aware that the high price of the Register, though it had not prevented it from being more read than any other publication, still, it prevented it from being so generally read as would be necessary to put the people right upon this important subject. Hence came the observation from one of us (I forget which), that if, for this one time, for this particular purpose, the price could be by some means or other, reduced to two-pence, then the desired effect would be produced at once. I said, before we parted, that this should be done. But, as it was impossible for me to prove to the people what was not the cause of their misery, without proving to them what was the cause of their misery; and as it was impossible for me to show them the real cause of their misery, without pointing out the remedy; as the remedy, at last, came to a Reform of Parliament: and, as I still feared, that the best time was not come for urging on this grand question, I delayed, from time to time, the fulfilment of my promise to my neighbour, who, on his part, never saw me without pressing me hard upon the subject; and, on the 2nd of November, I wrote the No. 18, being an “Address to the Journeymen and Labourers,” on the afore-mentioned subjects.

As the topics had long been a passing through my mind, they came Edition: current; Page: [220] very naturally and easily into their place upon paper; and, as I most sincerely felt the truth and justice of all that I wrote, I wrote with as much force both of language and argument as I had, in any case, at my command.

The arrangements had been made the week before for the manner and price of the publication; and I felt quite confident not only of a great sale, but of a very great effect, my object, as my Publisher can prove, being, upon that occasion not to receive any profit at all, but merely to pay the expenses of printing and publishing, though I had every reason to expect that this Cheap Edition would, for that one week at any rate, diminish the profits of my regular publication, seeing that the contents of both would be precisely the same.

This Number was written on Wednesday, sent off on Wednesday evening to London and published on the Saturday. After the manuscript was gone off, my fears of premature effect returned; and, after two days resolving, and re-resolving, and misgiving, I sent off my son John by the night-coach to prevent the Cheap Edition being published for a short time at any rate. But, on the Sunday morning, instead of his informing me that he had obeyed my orders, he informed me that six thousand of the Cheap Edition had been sold before his arrival. It was too late now to balance; it was too late to calculate any longer about time. I had put myself before the wind, which I well knew would prove too strong to suffer me to stop, or to slacken my pace.—It was impossible now, in this new scene, to remain at Botley. I went off to London in a few days, and remained there, except when I went into Hampshire to the Portsdown Meeting, and to Winchester to the Meeting there, until my final departure for Liverpool; and, of the eventful days of my eventful life, these were certainly the most eventful.

The effects of No. 18 were prodigious. It occupied the conversations of three-fourths of all the active men in the kingdom. The whole town was in a buz. The labouring classes of the people seemed as if they had never heard a word on politics before. The effect on their minds was like what might be expected to be produced on the eyes of one bred up in the dark, and brought out, all of a sudden, into broad day-light. Every body was permitted by me, expressly to republish this Number; and, in town and country, there were, in two months, more than two hundred thousand of this one Number printed and sold; and this, too, in spite of all the means which the Government, the Church, the Military and Naval Half-Pay, and all the innumerable swarms of Tax-gatherers and Tax-eaters, were able to do to check the circulation, not forgetting their fast allies, the great Manufacturers, Loan-Jobbers, and some of the Yeomanry.

Amongst the striking and instantaneous effects of this Cheap Register was the unlocking of the jaws of the London Press with regard to me and my writings. For nearly five years I had been unable to extort a word from this press. The hirelings of the Ministry hated me because I exposed the acts of the Ministers; the papers attached to the Whig faction hated me because I proved that that faction was as hostile to the people as the Ministers themselves; and the papers which took, as to object, the same side with myself, though they could not, if they spoke at all, refrain from approving, chose to say nothing, so that the silence was as complete as if it had been the result of a direct and most solemn convention. There were a few exceptions as to the weekly papers, and Edition: current; Page: [221] one as to the daily papers; but, these were too trifling to amount to much; and, nothing short of a degree of industry and perseverance, such as I possessed, could have kept up a publication under such circumstances. There were besides, what the French call the Chutchutments or the Whisperings, to contend with. And it is quite surprising how these are managed, and what effects they produce in London, and thence throughout the kingdom. The word starts from Whitehall, and away it goes in every direction. A gentleman in Berkshire was pointing out to a Parson in that county in the summer of 1816, something to read in “Cobbett.” “Cobbett!” said the other, “does he write now?” The crafty Priest knew well enough that I did, but it was his business to cause it to be believed, that I was become of no consequence.

Upon the appearance, however, of No. 18, away went all the Chutchutments, and all the pretendings of ignorance; and the corrupt part of the press, instead of its apparently sworn silence, treated the public with volleys of lies and execrations against me that never had a parallel in the world. It seemed as if the curses of these hirelings had, for years past, been kept without sound, like those of Mandeville’s sailors, which having been uttered during a terrible hard frost, filled the air with their crackings when the thaw came. No. 18 seemed to have a similar effect upon the long-suppressed falsehoods and execrations of Walter, Stewart, Perry, and others in London; and the very air was filled with the sound of their abominable abuse. To all this abuse I opposed nothing but the consciousness of my integrity. At last, however, at the end of two months, I gave, in No. 1 of Volume 32, entitled “A New Year’s Gift to George Rose,” an answer to every calumny that carried anything of weight in it; and, here it was that I experienced the good effects of long endurance of calumny; for the indignation of the people against my base and malignant calumniators, and their applause of my own conduct and character, were boundless; and these were expressed in a way that I never can remember without the deepest sense of gratitude.

Soon after the publication of No. 18, the first meeting in Spa Fields took place, of which I shall speak more fully, when I come to treat of the “Plots” that formed the subject of the contents of the Green Bag. In the meanwhile the Cheap Register went on, and the Government went on with its efforts to check it. At first the opinion appears to have been, that I was to be beaten by the press, supported by the Government. A set attack upon me in the Times newspaper was distributed at the price of a half-penny, though the paper must have cost a penny. Great numbers of this paper, reprinted by Clowes, printer of the Tax-papers, and, of course, in the employ of the Government, were carried, in the night, to the office of the Courier, where a great number of Placarders were assembled, who, at two o’clock in the morning, were sent out to stick them up, for the doing of which they were to be paid fifteen guineas. Two of these men, having been taken up by the Watch, were taken to the Captain of the Watch, and were by him released upon their informing him that they were doing “a Government job.” All this I had it in my power to prove before a court of justice, and, I trust, that the opportunity of doing this will yet be afforded me.

About this time, which was early in December, Mr. Becket, the Under Secretary of State to Lord Sidmouth, said, in answer to a proposition for silencing me in some very atrocious manner, “No: he must be written down.” Accordingly, up sprang all the little pamphlets at Edition: current; Page: [222] Norwich, at Romsey, at Oxford, and at many other places, while, in London, there were several, one of which could not cost less than two thousand guineas in advertising in large and expensive placards, which were pulled down, or effaced, the hour they were put up, and which were replaced the next hour, as one wave succeeds another in the sea. At last, after all the other efforts of this kind, came “Anti-Cobbett,” published at the same identical office which George Rose originally set up with the public money, and one-half of which, as intended partner of John Heriot, was offered to me on my return to England from America, and which I refused, as stated in the “New Year’s Gift to George Rose.” This “Anti-Cobbett” was written “by a Society of Gentlemen,” amongst whom, I was told, were Canning, William Gifford, and Southey. The expenses attending it could not fall short of twenty thousand pounds before I left England. Not content with advertisements in three hundred newspapers; not content with endless reams of placards; the managers of this concern actually sent out two hundred thousand circular letters, addressed to persons by name, urging them to circulate this work amongst all their tradesmen, farmers, workpeople, and to give it their strong recommendation; and this they were told was absolutely necessary to prevent a bloody revolution!

These efforts of the suborned press were, however, all in vain. They did produce effect; but it was this: amongst candid people, even though opposed to me as to political views, they produced shame at the unwarrantable means that my enemies resorted to, and they awakened in the minds of many such persons the first dawnings of a suspicion that I was, after all, in the right. Amongst the mass of the people these publications produced indignation to see so foully treated a man, from whose writings they had derived so much information, and whose own conduct had been so open and so fair, who had never disguised any point of force in the arguments of his adversaries, and who had always been the first to acknowledge the errors into which he himself had, at any time, fallen. Amongst all classes, not excepting the tax-eaters themselves, these atrocious publications, thrust upon the public with so much earnestness, excited a high opinion of the powers of my pen, and a consequent desire to see, at any rate, some of its dreaded productions.

By the beginning of January, or thereabouts, the Government had discovered, that it was quite useless to carry on any longer this contest with the pen. But, though open force appears now to have been resolved on, it was very hard to make out any pretext for employing such force. The machinations for the obtaining this pretext I shall speak of by and by, it being first necessary to speak of the line which the Reformers pursued. And here I shall first answer those, who thought, that we went too far at once. The fact is, that the Boroughmongers must, they well knew, refuse all, or yield all. A Reform, to be effectual as to any rational purpose, must take from them the whole of the power that they had usurped. They must cease to have the power of filling the seats in the Commons’ House, or they must still have that power. It was nonsense, therefore, to think of any compromise. Such a scheme could only amuse the people, and open the way for new delusions. The Boroughmongers would yield nothing; or they would yield all; because they very well knew, that if they yielded any part of their unjust power, they must, and that too, at no distant day, yield all the rest of it; and, the only QUESTION, with regard to their disposition, was, whether they would Edition: current; Page: [223] be disposed to yield now, in order to prevent being compelled to yield at some future day; or whether they would positively refuse now, and rely upon force, both for the present and the future? As to my own opinion upon this question, I expected them to adopt the latter course; I expected that they would do what they have done; but as I shall show by and by, it was just and right for me to act as I did notwithstanding this opinion, which I never scrupled to communicate to any body.

As to those who proposed Triennial Parliaments, and who wanted to stop at the mere enlargement of some of the Boroughs; they were either excessively foolish or very insincere. Such a change would have done no good, if it could have been effected; and, that man must have been wholly ignorant of the state of the public mind, who did not know that the mass of the people, all the whole mass of petitioners, all the whole mass of those who were in downright earnest for Reform, would have treated with scorn, would have considered as the grossest of insults, any proposition of this sort.

There were points of difference amongst the Reformers themselves, at first, of greater nicety. The question of ballot or no ballot, and the question of householders only, or all men twenty-one years of age. The ballot was a matter of little consequence. But, the latter was of great consequence in the principle, though it would have been of no effect at all, if we had come to the practice. When the Deputies met in London, I myself proposed the restriction to householders, and Major Cartwright did not object; but, as he knows well, it was done merely because it was hoped that Sir Francis Burdett would bring in a Bill for a Reform, and because I knew, that he would not consent to what is called Universal Suffrage. However, finding that the Deputies from the country were not only decidedly for universal suffrage, but that they were prepared with good and sound arguments in favour of it, we gave way, as it became us to do.

Thus, then, all the people, nine-tenths of the active men in the nation, were unanimous for a Reform of the Parliament upon the fixed principles, “That no man ought to be taxed without his own consent; and that Parliaments ought to be annually chosen.” The arguments in favour of the restriction to householders melted into air before the fact, that every journeyman and labourer paid ten pounds a year in taxes out of every eighteen pounds that he earned and expended. In the presence of a fact like this, all the talk about householders shrunk into fanciful niceties, which were instantly rejected by common sense.—And, besides, we had the letter and the bill of the late Duke of Richmond, the latter recognising our principles, and the former most clearly proving them to be bottomed upon reason as well as upon the Constitution and laws of England. To stop at householders nobody could find arguments to support, other than such as rested upon the impracticability of taking an election by Universal Suffrage; and, this impracticability was soon found not to exist.

Those who would confine the votes to visible property of any sort, or in any degree; those who would confine it to householders; neither have any principle or any law for their guide. We have both; and to that has been owing the humiliation of the Boroughmongers; for, humbled they are in exact proportion to the outrages they have been compelled to commit, in order to avoid yielding to the force of reason and of justice.

Edition: current; Page: [224]

As to the carrying of our point; as to the policy of our proceedings; is there a man on earth, whose imagination, however whimsical, can invent a reason for his believing, or affecting to believe, that the Boroughmongers would not as soon yield their power of seat-filling to all the men of twenty-one years of age as to all the householders? It is so absurd, so shockingly absurd, to believe any such thing, that no man in his sober senses can believe it; and for any man to affect to believe that the people have gone too far in praying for Universal Suffrage, while he himself professes a wish to go as far as householders, cannot possibly be ascribed to any thing but mere whim, or, to a desire to draw himself away from the cause altogether; especially when he sees not one single petitioner of the same opinion with himself! It would be a curious thing indeed for a man to ask for a Reform, because two millions of men have petitioned for it, and, in his plan of Reform to shut out the main principle of the Petitioners, and to exclude one-half of themselves from any benefit to be derived from their own prayer! Solomon says that there is nothing new under the sun; but, this would be something new at any rate; and, it would come, too, directly in the teeth of the great principle of the law: “That no man shall be taxed without his own consent.”

The line of conduct, therefore, which the Reformers pursued, was wise as well as just. They had law and reason on their side all the way through, and hence they were unanswerable; and, besides, as far as I, or any other, who might be called a leader in the cause, had anything to do, the people would have it so! They had taken the thing into their own hands. They no longer looked up to Palace-yard, nor to the Guildhall of London. They had met all over the kingdom; and, they had shown that they wanted no leaders. In their Resolutions, their Petitions, their Speeches, they had shown that talent was no longer confined to those who are educated by Monks at the Universities. Some of the documents drawn up, and some of the speeches delivered in Scotland, in Lancashire, in Nottinghamshire, and many other places, would, if they dared accept of the challenge and lay their documents and speeches by the side of them, put the gentlemen of St. Stephen’s to shame, if their fortitude were not too powerful to suffer them to experience any such feeling. At no former period could the people be said to ask for a Reform. How many times has Sir Francis Burdett, in his speeches, complained of the silence of the people of the country! How many times has he said, that he saw no hope, till the country bestirred itself? At last it did bestir itself in good earnest. But it was Universal Suffrage for which it stirred, as, indeed, it must be; for, who could expect more that half the tax-payers to bestir themselves in order still to be excluded from the right of voting?

The people understood very clearly, long before the period to which I am alluding, what share of the taxes they paid; every journeyman and labourer clearly understood, that out of 20s. for salt, he paid 16s. or 18s. in tax, including the additional charge arising out of the tax. He understood, that his beer was three-fourths tax. He understood, that his candles and soap, his tobacco, shoes, suger, tea, spirits, and almost everything else that he bought and used, paid enormous taxes. He understood, that out of every eighteen pounds of his earnings he paid ten pounds in taxes. And, what an excellent Reform must that appear to him, which was founded upon the principle, “that no man ought to be Edition: current; Page: [225] taxed without his own consent,” and which, at the same time, excluded him from voting, unless, in addition to his being taxed, he possessed the qualification given him by a wife and by renting a house?

To make the right of voting depend on the possession of property of any sort, would not, in some cases, be so good as the present system, which in some cities and towns extends the right to free men of certain trades. But, to extend the right to mere householders, and to stop there, would in principle be even more capricious and partial than the present system, though, I am aware, that it would have answered the purpose, in practice, if it could have been obtained. But, while it was full as objectionable to the Boroughmongers as the Universal Suffrage, it did not please the petitioners, and Canning very quickly availed himself of this circumstance, when Sir Francis Burdett talked of his Householder plan. He said, “this is full as bad as any other plan; but, at any rate, it is a plan that nobody petitions for. The noble Lord’s plan (Lord Cochrane’s, who said he agreed with the petitioners,) is really petitioned for. It is ruin, it is confiscation, it is revolution, it is devastation and carnage: I am aware of all that; but at any rate it does come supported by the prayers of numerous petitioners; while all the other plans have not one single petitioner in support of either of them.” This was very flippant and very impudent, but the argument against the divers plans, other than that of Universal Suffrage, was perfectly fair.

The question, when it came to this stage, was not what one man, or twenty or thirty men, might think best; but what the people thought best, and what they were ready to support with all their might. It was for no man to be judge for a whole people. No man was bound to act contrary to his own opinion; yet it may be wise, and just, and public-spirited sometimes to do so; but, no man ought, by the opposing of his own opinion to that of a whole people, to endanger the success of their virtuous cause; especially when it must be obvious to him, that the following of his own opinion, could, in no sense or degree whatsoever, lessen the opposition which would be made to what he would have to propose.

I was, as I said before, of opinion, that the Boroughmongers would yield nothing at this time; but, because this was my opinion, I was not, for that reason, to desist. The thing was just and right. It was always justifiable to endeavour to obtain the Reform; and, if I could have been quite sure that we should fail now, it was justifiable to pursue the path that I pursued; because, after we were fairly on foot, to have retreated without coming to the onset would have done much more mischief to the cause, than a mere suspension of its complete triumph can possibly have done. With several gentlemen I reasoned upon the subject, thus: “We can do no harm, except to a dozen or two of persons, amongst whom I shall certainly be one. I am aware, that the Boroughmongers, though we shall drive them to the wall in argument, will now be too strong for us, if they resort to force. But then, what follows? Why, their system will stand before the people in its true and undisguised form and character; and that will be accomplishing more than one half our work. I know very well what Gagging Bills are; and I know how they were smoothed over during the war, when so many means of false alarms existed. But I also know, that if resorted to now, the thing will admit of no smoothing over; it will Edition: current; Page: [226] admit of no disguise; no palliation; and the people will see clearly, that they can never be safe again as long as seats are bought and sold. We shall succeed now, or we shall not. If we succeed, the nation and all its ancient laws and establishments are safe. If we fail, there must be a system introduced equal to a great revolution; and, then it is impossible that final success can be at any great distance. The length of time, however, that this new order of things may last is of little consequence, it being, in my opinion, far preferable, that the shadow of freedom should be removed, than that the shadow should remain after the reality is gone. It is,” I used to say, “the hypocrisy of the thing that I most dislike, and the effects of which have been the most fatal to the country. The talk about liberty, about personal safety, about free press, about the right of petition, and the vague idea that the people have that all these exist: these are the things which have done the mischief. It was the fair face and smooth tongue of Celia, and not the seeing of her paints and ointments, that kept her swain in bondage. We shall at any rate, compel the Boroughmongers to throw off the mask; and, when that is done let them live and carry on their system as comfortably as they can.”

This was the reasoning upon which I proceeded, and I could call twenty persons to bear testimony