Tuesday, 19 June 2012

19th June 1812: General Maitland's full assessment of the situation in the Northern District

19th June 1812

My Lord.

I conceive it may be satisfactory, to His Majesty's Government, to be put in possession of the result of all the Information, I have been able to collect, and of the Opinion I entertain of the present Situation of the Country, and of the changes that have taken place since I was originally appointed to the Command of the Disturbed Districts.

On my first coming down, the whole of the Country presented, on the one hand, a degree of very great Panic, on the part, of the Loyal, and the Well affected, when on the other hand, it exhibited and unceasing degree of Activity, and constant movement among such of the lower Orders, as seemed to be, in any degree, Disaffected.

The general appearance of Panic has certainly in some degree subsided, though I am sorry to say, it still prevails, to a more considerable extent, than I conceive the nature of the Situation demands, or the general Character of our Countrymen warrants.

On the part of the Lower Orders, that general Species of constant Activity, which have heretofore appeared, has considerably subsided. But there has in certain Quarters, an increased degree of Exertion made its appearance, applicable to apparent Ends.

The sole Object at present, apparently in View, where these Appearances exist, is the acquisition of Arms, and it is carried on all along the Borders of this County, Yorkshire, Cheshire, with a perseverance, which, though I hold it to be in no degree alarming, is still highly worthy of the most serious consideration, and completely indicative, not only, of the thorough concert, of the Parties concerned, but also of the ultimate Views, they must necessarily be supposed to entertain.

In the consideration of this Subject, it is of the greatest Importance, to form as precise and accurate a Judgement, as possible, who these Parties are, and where this novel Spirit originates: whether it exists merely among the Parties, that shew themselves, or; whether, it is connected with any deeper Organization, and extends itself to more numerous Bodies: whether it is confined in its Objects, to what we now see, or; whether these Objects, may not be connected with such as hitherto have not made their Appearance.—

Your Lordship may easily believe that I have paid the deepest attention to every point that could enable me to form a Judgement, upon this head, and whether I consider the uniform tenor of information, when I look at all the Proceedings, that have taken place at the trials of Chester, and Lancaster, or whether I advert to every thing we know, that has passed, at the various seizures of Arms and Meetings in the Country: I have no hesitation, indistinctly stating to Your Lordship, my deep, and thorough Conviction, that at present, the whole of these Revolutionary Movements are limited, to the very lowest Orders of the People, generally to the Places, where they shew themselves, and that no concert exists, nor no Plan is laid, further than is manifested, in the open Acts of Violence that are daily committed.

Were I to give a distinct Opinion, in regard to their Heads, I feel certainly inclined, most decidedly to say, that though some of them may possess, considerable Talent, they are still of the lowest Orders. Men of desperate Fortunes who have taken advantage, of the pressure of the Moment, to work upon the inferior Classes, through the medium of the Associations, in this Place, which have long existed, and which unfortunately give too great facility, to the Evil disposed, to work upon the Ignorant and Distressed, to objects totally foreign, from the general feeling of Englishman, and I believe, the actual feeling, of by far the greatest part, even of the Manufacturing community.

If I am correct, in my View, of the Subject, if he be true, that the general Population of the Country, is sound, in its Principles, and true to its Allegiance. If the heads of those, who are now Guilty of daily Acts of enormity, are to be found in the lower classes, of the People themselves, and if it be also clear, that neither all the Activity, of the Magistrates, (which is certainly not generally so great as might be wished,) together with the Aid of the Military, can neither stop or effectually put down, these Rebellious Symptoms, that now exist; the Question naturally arises, whether in prudence some strong Measure, ought not to be adopted by His Majesty's Government, with a View to put an End, to a State of things, which though it may not be as yet dangerous, in itself has in its Constitution and Objects, every Seed of danger mischief; and is even at present, a source of general Alarm, and of constant uneasiness.—

I can have no doubt, whatever may be, the ultimate result, of the late Measure, of His Majesty’s Government, in suspending, the Orders in Council, that its immediate Effect, by stimulating, the Expextation, of the Manufactured Commodities, on hand, and consequently opening the Door, to the increased employment, of our Manufacturers, will be most salutary. And this, should we be fortunate enough in addition, to have the benefit, of a full Harvest, will I apprehend go far, indeed least to stop, the propagation, of the Mischief, further than it may, present have gone. But I own, I have many doubts, whether it will, have the effect, of bringing back, those who are already implicated in these transactions, and who are engaged, in these Revolutionary designs.

My opinion in truth is, looking on the one hand, at the State, of the Magistracy, and on the other, at the length, to which the thing has gone, that nothing short, of a Legislative Measure, upon the Subject, will be adequate, to restore the Country, in a short time, to a state of Internal tranquility, and Security.

I am well aware, of all the delicacy and difficulty, connected with the Subject, but I am confident, there is no person, who has had, the same occasion I have, to consider, the whole of this Question, on the Spot, in a general and impartial, point of View, looking at it, in all its Points and Bearings, that would not, agree with me, that some such Measure, is indispensably necessary.

The mildest, that appears to me, at all adequate, to meet the Evil, would possibly be, to renew, under increased restrictions, and Act, which took place, last War, and which I believe too, has taken place, in former Wars, enabling, the Magistracy, to force, into the Army or Navy, for a limited period, Persons of bad Character.

In making this suggestion, I, at the same time think, every restriction, ought to be laid on, to limit, the Exercise of such Power, within the narrowest, possible Bounds. For the Remedy I hold, such power would administer, certainly, would not, in my mind arise, so much from the Exertion, as from the general knowledge, possessed by the Disaffected, such power, actually, was lodged in the hands, of the Magistrates. And I am convinced, that if a very few, of the Heads, were seized, and sent away, under such an Act, the whole thing, would very soon, be totally got the better of.

My Opinion, on this Subject, is strengthened, by the View, I have already stated, of who, and what, at their Heads, and though I certainly, feel most disinclined, to recommend, any Measure, of harshness, still with the feelings, I entertain of the State, of the Country, I would neither act, honorably by Your Lordship, or His Majesty's Government, were I to withhold, the sentiments I have now expressed.

Some such Measure, does seem to me, to be necessary, and though, I have no doubt, the Suspension of the Orders, which has already, though only known this morning, had considerable effect here, will hinder, the propagation, of the Evil, still, I really think, some thing, must be done, to arrest, the course of those, who are already so deeply implicated.

I have [etc]

L Genl

[To Lord Sidmouth]

This letter can be found at HO 40/1/1.

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