Sunday, 4 November 2012

4th November 1812: Earl Fitzwilliam describes the Luddites as 'terrorists' to the Home Secretary

Wentworth novr 4. 1812

my Lord

your Lordship is already apprized of the great number of Prisoners (nearly 50) in York Castle, on charges emanating from the combination & system, now commonly denominated Ludditism: your Lordship is likewise aware what a great length of time, this description of crime has prevail’d, & gone uncheck’d, because unpunish’d. Not a week passes, but fresh instances of alarming outrage occurr, committed by irresistible numbers, well arm’d, & organized under a system little short of military discipline. That this system should so long continue in such force & efficacy, must be imputed in a great degree to its having gone so long unpunish’d. This circumstance cannot fail to impress those engaged in the combination with a confidence in their own security under the system establish’d, affording thereby strong inducement to others to enlist into the Gang, whilst at the same time, it not only dumps all spirit of resistance in the peaceable Inhabitant, but it deters him from coming forward with evidence against the Criminals, which under present appearances he considers as unavailing for any good end, but as productive of increased danger to himself.

These considerations have long made All, who are witnesses of what is passing, most anxious, that whenever any cases can be brought home against the persons charged, that they should be brought to trial as early as possible, every one considering the conviction of some of the Offenders, as positively necessary for the restoration of tranquillity in these parts, & for the safety of the peaceable Inhabitants—this is not the opinion of the last-mention’d description of person alone, but equally so the body of the Magistrates, & particularly of those most actively engaged in attempting to suppress this combination—I am empower’d to stick it likewise, as the decided opinion of Gen: Maitland, with whom I have most recently corresponded on this point, & who joins with the Magistrates in opinion, that it is most desirable that the Trial of these persons should not be delay’d a day, whenever any of them cannot be brought to conviction—

Offenders under this system, may be class’d under four different heads— 1st Murderers & Terrorists — 2d — Destroyers of machinery — 3d Housebreakers for Arms, or mere plunder — 4th Twisters-in, or the administrators of Oaths—

Under the first class, come the Murderers of Horsfall, against whom, I am given to understand, the evidence is most complete — likewise Schofield for attempting the life of Hinchliffe — evidence more doubtfull, but from what I have heard, likely to become much more strong, if confidence can be inspired into the witness—

2d Class — the attack on Cartwrights mill — evidence agst some of the parties, said to be strong — other cases of this class, evidence said to be strong.

of the 3d Class I know little — of the 4th, I believe there are not more than two cases, both from Barnsley — one of which I believe, will be brought home —

But it is wasting time to attempt entering into particulars, the whole body of evidence in all the various cases being before your Lordship. From that body of evidence the Att & Solr Genl will select such cases & such only, as afford reasonable ground for supposing acquittals will not be consequence — Undoubtedly if among these cases, none are to be selected, which promise a moral certainty that conviction must ensue, it would be very inexpedient, because it would prove most mischievous to have an extraordinary Assizes held: it would stamp the system as invulnerable; the dangerous consequences of which, under the certain pressure of scarcity, no one can estimate. In urging therefore the consideration of a Special Comn, I do it, in the full confidence, that it will not be granted, but upon the decided conviction of the Law Officers, that some of the cases cannot fail to be brought home to the some of the Parties accused — On that presumption, but on that only, I state it to be the opinion of Gen: Maitland, the Magistrates, most actively engaged in this business, & my own, that early Trial will conduce, & is essential to tranquillizing these parts: they will not be secure, untill exemplary punishment has been inflicted, & great must be the danger, considering the pressure of the times, should nothing be done before the Lent Assizes

I have [etc]

Wentworth Fitzwilliam

[To] Viscount Sidmouth
&c &c &c

This letter can be found at HO 42/129.

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