Assess classes that followed in the name of patriotism

Assess the causes and consequences of
the ‘Peterloo’ massacre.

On August 16th 1819 ,in St
Peter’s field Manchester , a Calvary charge was led into a crowd of peaceful radical
protesters in what resulted in the death of 15 people and hundreds to be
injured in what has become known as one of the most tragic consequences of government
paranoia  in British history .It was the
result of various factors especially the economic situation which worsened
because of the Napoleonic wars and government paranoia because of the French revolution
.Like many instances we have witnessed since then , the status quo was threatened
by the uniting of the working classes and their demands of reform and so the
consequences of the  Peterloo massacre was
varied from public outrage to further government repression .

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One of the forefront problems that
led to the massacre was the state of the country after the French revolution and
the paranoia that followed from government officials. Peterloo was burdened with a complex prehistory of intense social and
political conflict, a prehistory that found expression in the rituals of
symbolic power1. This revolution was one that truly shook European monarchies to the
core and severely threatened the upper classes everywhere. After fighting in
the Napoleonic wars Britain was left in a slightly delicate situation where
although they had triumphed at Waterloo they were left with skyrocketing unemployment,
taxes and the cost of food . However, the most significant problem with the
closing of the Napoleonic Wars there was a resurgence of popular radicalism in
England. Once again radicals held large public meetings, organized petitions
and formed associations demanding constitutional reform – particularly
franchise reform. The face of English popular radicalism was more distinctly
working class.2 The working classes had attempted to rise up several times in the course
of the years between the French revolution and the Peterloo massacre , each
time being quelled with unrelenting dismissals. Unbeknownst to the greater
public , each time there was an attempt at calling for reform the government and
its officials would grow more and more paranoid . I believe that following the French
revolution and especially witnessing the execution of royalty and the terror of
the upper classes that followed in the name of patriotism and reform was a
direct threat to the British social and political order .As at Peterloo,
popular radicals of the industrial north usually avoided direct symbolic
allusions to the French Revolution, at least at public meetings. In contrast,
the symbolic display of London radicalism continued to exhibit more distinctly
French tones3.In the eyes of the upper classes the radical meetings had the possibility
of taking away their power and so many of the meetings were hyped up as the
final straw. This attitude was aided by some of the actions taken by some officials
who had reacted in a similarly aggressive manner to protest in the year 1817
when the Blankenteers march took place and some 100 men were attacked leaving
them with wounds ,when spies employed by the courts reported that violence was
the intention of the march. This kind of misreporting and open challenge was the
most important cause of the Peterloo massacre as if the government had been
more well informed of the situation they would have realised that a popular
uprising was not as highly possible as they thought. This also directly
contributed to the growing sense of panic among the magistrates as they felt
they could lose power . “Frightened by the alienation of their laborers, the
Manchester notables were dis posed to see bloody revolution lurking behind
every plea for reform”4.

The greatest context in the massacre
was the economic situation .Due to relentless years of war, Britain through an
economic down turn in which the cost of British imports rose with taxes and the
cost of living. Consequently, the entire price structure, upon the maintenance
of which depended agricultural income in general, rent payments, and the
ability of the landlords to pay their debts, was dangerously threatened. 5This forced the landlords in government to implement the very unpopular
Corn laws in which the cost of food would be kept very high so that when people
bought form them they would not be losing money because of the economy .This
combined with a bad harvest in 1816 made the population at large resent their
lack of representation in office and as with many attempts at revolutions people
grew particularly restless when they do not have all the food or money that
they need to live .Unemployment and high food prices fed the grievances of men
whose only refuge was the harsh, inadequate system of poor relief6 .This also helped to push people into more radical ideas of reforms as it
is easier to justify and point out the lack of representation was the economic
depression of I8I9 that led the working classes, particularly the cotton
weavers, to join with the Radical reformers in inviting “Orator” Hunt
to speak at Manchester and to stress a political program for the cure of
economic ills.7

The political reasons for the massacre
intersect with the economic ones as the people benefitting from the economic
down turn were the same ones controlling political matters . A significant
reason for the Peterloo massacre was the insistence of radicals for
parliamentary reform to be representative of the working public and to be able
to have the right to suffrage if you were a working man .The intensity of these
demands depended mostly on the state of the economy as once the economy saw an
uptake people were less concerned. It provoked tremendous popular agitation in
northern England for manhood suffrage; and the social unrest culminated in the
massacre by regular troops of protesters at St. Peter’s Fields outside
Manchester. 8  The people working in the
textiles , chiefly the spinners , weaver and cotton manufactures conflicted
because of the bad economy and so the workers recognised that the drop in wages
was likely the result of capitalist greed at their expense and so they joined with
the radical reformers in the hopes of changing their situation. This was a significant
factor in the Peterloo massacre as it amplified the calls for reform as more people
were being affected and therefore joining the growing radical meetings .The joining
of the textiles industry also helped to make the government  ore paranoid as some protesters had taken to attacking
and vandalising the cotton factories that they were liable to. This shared with
the demands for suffrage and stable living wages directly produced the outcome
of the meeting in St Peters field 1819.

As consequence of the massacre the
public was outraged .As the papers had reported that the protesters had been unarmed
and that there were many women and children in attendance the idea of such an
abuse of power was seen as unacceptable .Although this was not the first time
that the magistrates had used excessive force it was widely seen as having gone
too far. The government claimed through the press that the radical meetings
were not in the name of patriotism and likened it to the French revolution .This
made it very difficult to use things like banners , badges and signs as it was
being associated with the French with whom the British had only been fighting
less than a decade earlier .Lacking any evidence of inflammatory language the
symbols themselves became all the more important in creating circumstances
calculated to “produce terror of immediate danger in the minds of the
King’s subjects9.The goal after the massacre was to completely destroy any notion of rebellion
as that brief interval forced the radicals to change many of their tactics and,
at the same time, provided them with a pantheon of martyrs. “10 The radicals were not completely dissuaded as the massacre made evident
the extent of brutality that local magistrates, members of Parliament, and the
Crown were willing to condone to suppress popular protests”11.

The government continued to use the massacre
to further demonise protesters and so they claimed that the intention of such a
big meeting , which consisted of an estimated 60,000 people ,was to elect a
representative to lead them in parliament which was illegal. Which then
justified the presence of the Yeonmanry Calvary in the first place.The tactic that
the magistrates used was to consistently highlight the quentionalbe lagaltiy of
the meeting and then point out how unreasonable ,unpatriotic and threatening
the radical movement as whole was .Throughout the trial the prosecution drew
attention to the flags and cockades, the emblems of French12,which they used to prove their argument in court .However due to
conflicting accounts and the experiences with state violence before they were
not widely believed and after Peterloo, the Home Office lost patience with
magistrates who had somehow failed to note the unprecedented Artifice with
which the Demagogues of the present day contrive without transgressing the Law,
to produce on the Public Mind the same effect which used only to be created by
means unquestionably unlawful.13

They also used the massacre to implement
laws that would dissuade the meetings. For example the Gag laws which had been
re implemented in 1818 , were more defiantly challenged by the radical press in
favour of suffrage .This consequentially led to the attempt from radicals to
flame  the embers of rebellion ,for
example Thomas Wooler , who disregarded the gagging acts to continue to publish
radical material .Peterloo, the Black Dwarf repeatedly proclaimed, was ‘our
most glorious victory’: We rejoice at the event for it was the triumph of
calumniated reform. It was the conquest of the slandered reformers – the
victory of temper and principle, over infuriate loyalty and authorised treason.
This victory must be ever kept in memory, and its effect stimulate and guide
your future conduct.14This excerpt also shows how the radicals attempted to use the victims of
the massacre  martyrs to stir more
dissent, as it enabled them to place themselves at the head of a popular and
righteous cause, to establish themselves in local politics, and to play a
larger role in politics at the national level.”15

To conclude , I believe it was the growing sense of desperation
from the government that caused the Peterloo massacre .The state was in pursuit
of stability and what they considered to be serious dissent was unacceptable
and needed to be dispersed immediately .The fact that instead of trying to
quell public outrage after the massacre they instantly went about disbanding any
radical groups and created  various laws
to forbid protesters to gather or meet in too large or threatening a group, shows
us that the goal was always to discourage and force anyone who doesn’t agree
with the state of affairs to hide and therefore encourage the negative government
propaganda about the legality , patriotism and morality of their stance The
authorities sought to make dissent appear suspect, to drive reformers into
conspiratorial activities, and to mobilize the judicial system as an engine of
political repression16.It
is my belief that the government overreacted because of paranoia and several
actions taken by the radicals in the country and so they believed that if they
let people openly challenge them it would lead to a revolution similar to that
of France . “Peterloo”
came to represent a seminal moment in the struggle for the rights to free
public assembly and political expression. 17
I believe that the pattern of dissent and the state ignoring the demands of the
public was responsible for the paranoia in parliament that led to the massacre
.

1 1  Epstein,
James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and Social
Conflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,
no. 122 (1989): 75-118

2  Epstein, James. “Understanding
the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and Social Conflict in Early
Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present, no. 122
(1989): 75-118. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.brunel.ac.uk/stable/650952.

3 Epstein,
James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and Social
Conflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,
no. 122 (1989): 75-118.

4 Leventhal,
F. M. “Why a Massacre? The Responsibility for Peterloo.” The
Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2, no. 1 (1971): 109-18.
doi:10.2307/202444.

5 http://www.jstor.
copied  Link, Arthur S. “Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the
Economic and Political Crisis in Great Britain, 1816-1820.” Journal
of the History of Ideas 9, no. 3 (1948): 323-38. doi:10.2307/2707373.org.ezproxy.brunel.ac.uk/stable/650952.

6 Leventhal,
F. M. “Why a Massacre? The Responsibility for Peterloo.” The
Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2, no. 1 (1971): 109-18.
doi:10.2307/202444.

7 Cahill,
Gilbert A. The American Historical Review 64, no. 3 (1959):
635 36.doi:10.2307/1905201.

8 http://www.jstor.
copied  Link, Arthur S. “Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the
Economic and Political Crisis in Great Britain, 1816-1820.” Journal
of the History of Ideas 9, no. 3 (1948): 323-38. doi:10.2307/2707373.org.ezproxy.brunel.ac.uk/stable/650952.

9 Epstein,
James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and Social
Conflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,
no. 122 (1989): 75-118.

10 Matthews,
Roy T. Victorian Periodicals Review 29, no. 4 (1996): 342-44. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.brunel.ac.uk/stable/20082948.

 

11 Demson,
Michael. Keats-Shelley Journal 62 (2013): 148-49. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.brunel.ac.uk/stable/24396092.

 

12 Epstein,
James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and Social
Conflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,
no. 122 (1989): 75-118.

13 Belchem, J. C. “Henry Hunt and the Evolution of the
Mass Platform.” The English Historical Review 93, no. 369
(1978): 739-73.

14 Belchem,
J. C. “Henry Hunt and the Evolution of the Mass Platform.” The
English Historical Review 93, no. 369 (1978): 739-73.

15 Cahill,
Gilbert A. The American Historical Review 64, no. 3 (1959):
635 36.doi:10.2307/1905201.

 

16 Leventhal,
F. M. “Why a Massacre? The Responsibility for Peterloo.” The
Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2, no. 1 (1971): 109-18.
doi:10.2307/202444.

 

17 Epstein,
James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and Social
Conflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,
no. 122 (1989): 75-118.

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