Friday, 8 March 2013

8th March 1813: The Leeds Intelligencer promotes a newly-published account of the York Special Commission

As per the directions of the Treasury Solicitor, Henry Hobhouse, an account of the York Special Commission had been hurriedly published, and the Leeds Intelligencer of Monday 8th March carried an excerpt. This is noteworthy, not least as it shows how a State-backed ideological reworking of events had already begun, less than 2 months after the conclusion of the trials in the West Riding:
Trial of the Luddites.—An authentic report has just been published of the proceedings under authority of the late Special Commission for the trial of the crimes committed in the West Riding of Yorkshire. To this interesting publication some preliminary remarks are offered, which, after giving a concise account of the circumstances and causes which led to a crisis little short of open rebellion, conclude as follow:—

"The cases exhibit a melancholy portrait of the depravity of human nature. We see young men, capable of gaining an ample livelihood by honest industry, led to the commission of the most heinous crimes, without any adequate, it may almost be said, without any motive. They fancy themselves aggrieved by the improvement of machinery. They take to redress into their own hands. To secure their object, they form societies, linked together by illegal oath of secrecy. They thus fancy that they have secured to themselves impunity, and they proceed to the perpetration of the most horrible outrages on the property and persons of individuals, against whom they are actuated by no personal malice: and do not even stop short of shedding the innocent blood of men, who have given no other cause of offence, than by firmly pursuing their lawful callings, not only in a harmless manner, but in that best calculated to promote the interests of the community.

"We see, in several instances, that the disaffected had experienced such success, as to make them speculate on oversetting even the Government of the kingdom; and it is to be feared, that the embers of revolutionary principles, which had been mouldering for several years, were revived in the country where the scenes were acted, by the fancied grievance of improved machinery, and the temporary success which its destroyers met with in the vicinity of Nottingham. Encouragement was given by the doubts cast on the moral turpitude of these crimes; and the evil was raised to its height by religious fanaticism, which unhappily exists, in an excessive degree, in those populous districts.

"The supposed grievance of which these deluded men complain, arising for the improvement of machinery, has been denominated a fancied grievance. It would be wasting time to argue upon the undoubted right of every subject of this kingdom to conduct his trade in such manner as he may deem most conducive to his own interests, unless where the wisdom of Parliament has controlled him by regulations. But the events of the last year prove that it may not be altogether superfluous to shew how it is that the improvement of machinery is beneficial, instead of being detrimental, to the interest of the labouring manufacturer, as well as to the community at large. It is obvious, that the demand for any commodity increases with its cheapness, and that the purchaser will resort to the market at which it is sold at the lowest rate; and therefore, that every thing which contributes to the cheapness increases the demand, and gives an advantage to the market where such cheapness exists, over all other markets where, from local causes, the commodity cannot be sold at so low a price. Where the demand increases, the number of hands employed will increase also. But nothing has been ever found to contribute so much to the cheapness of a manufactured article, as the use of machinery, which enables the same work to be done, not only in less time and with fewer hands, but by persons of earlier age and of less robust constitutions, than can render themselves useful while all the operations are to be performed by bodily strength. Hence all the members of a family are now enabled to contribute towards its support, instead of relying (as formerly was the case) altogether upon the exertions of the husband and father, who still has many parts of the manufacture to which he may apply his vigour, and earn ample wages. What then would be the consequence, if the endeavours of the disaffected could succeed in the expulsion of machinery? The wife and young children would be thrown out of employ; the husband and the father must support them entirely by his own labour; the price of the manufactured goods would be raised; the purchaser would resort to a cheaper market, where the use of machinery was encouraged; the trade would decay; the manufacturer would gradually dismiss his journeyman, or reduce their wages; while their families would become more and more burdensome; and finally, nothing but poverty and misery would prevail.

"A notion has been entertained by some, that the disturbances have been in a great degree ascribable to poverty and distress, arising from the want of foreign markets for our manufactures. It has been already stated, that at a few towns, in the spring of last year, there were some riots arising from the high price of provisions; but in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield, which was a metropolis of discontent, not the least symptom is to be discovered of Luddism having arisen from these causes. On the contrary, many of the prisoners tried at York rested their defence on stories, which depended for their credibility on the fact, that work was super-abundant."

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