Tuesday, 28 February 2017

28th February 1817: The Tory Leicester Journal calls the growing political reform movements 'political Luddism'

In the last page will be found the Report of the Committee of Secrecy to the House of Commons—we inserted the one to the House of Peers in our last.—The Reports confirm all that we have, from time to time, said upon the subject. There has been an extensive correspondence carried on between clubs and individuals in London, and the disaffected in the country. There is only this difference, that it appears that there have been two or three associations in London, who have not been nominally connected, and which have some shades of difference, but if not nominally connected, they have all been labouring in the same cause; and have poured and united flood of sedition over the populace of London and the manufacturing and commercial parts of the country. We have said, that the agents in all the principal places, where their plans have taken effect, were the old Jacobins, who had been formerly put down by Government, and who had been lying in wait for a favourable opportunity opportunity to exert themselves. The characters drawn in the Report of the most active agents and their measures have no doubt on this head. Their profane scoffings at religion; their attempts to destroy its influence and restraints, in order to fit those they had deluded into instruments desperate enough for their purposes, with the avowal of malignant designs against Kings and Aristocrats, brand the Jacobin character into their foreheads. We have said, that the plan was to make use of the distress of the poor in large towns and manufacturing districta, and this is made out. Clubs, of different names, but having substantially the same object, and corresponding with each other, and with the leading clubs in London, have been very extensively formed; the Reports say in some counties, in almost every village, and this we know to be the fact. These clubs are united, in most instances, by oaths; and, in all, the most rebellious purposes are, without scruple, avowed in the daily conversation of their members. Subscriptions have been raised for the purchase and circulation of inflammatory, seditious, and blasphemous writings; by which, and the active persuasions of idle and dissolute fellows, who are supported for the purpose of seducing the distressed poor  to join their combinations, the clubs have been extended; or the lower classes, in many places, inflamed against the Government, and disposed to acts of outrage.—We have compared these factions to the Luddites;—We need not advert to the fact well known and acknowledged where Luddism took its first rise, that the Jacobinized principles of the operative weavers of Nottingham and its vicinity, more early and more deeply corrupted than in any other part, originated this horrid plot to control, by outrage and assassination, those who employed them—The insolence of these men grew up with their Jacobinical malignity to all above them; and finally issued, where all Jacobinism will issue, in deeds of dark atrocity and blood. This is not, however, the proof of resemblance we mean; the correspondence of the ends and means of political Luddism, and of weaving Luddism, is the proof. Manufacturing Luddism is a plot to bring the master manufacturers under the direction of their journeymen, both as to the prices of labour and the machinery used. To effect this, secret societies are organized, and held together by oaths; the means are, the destruction of machinery, and the assassination of obnoxious masters; whilst vengeance is declared against all who are enemies to the association. In what does political Luddism differ? It is a plot to bring government under the control of a mob, dignified with the name of "the people," to make the very lowest of the population the arbiters of peace and war, the framers of new constitutions, and the frame breakers of the machinery of old ones. To accomplish this similar end, similar means are adopted: Secret societies are formed; they are bound together by horrid oaths; in some instances assassination has been attempted; in all, the members have been taught the right and duty of taking off the heads of their governors. Arms have been prepared, and used; organisation, with reference to insurrection, has taken place; and lists of proscribed victims have been made out. But there is a material difference between the manufacturing and the political Luddites. We have understood that the Luddites of Nottinghamshire have added plunder to their other atrocities. The genuine Luddites, we believe,—spurn the imputation with feelings of offended pride, as no part of that system. The reforming mobs, on the contrary, have, in some instances actually plundered, and in many, have given sufficient indication of their inclination to do so. The Luddites, though they have broken the frames, have never pretended to the right of possessing themselves of the property of their masters. They were still willing to work, though on their own terms, leaving the master to be master still, in full possession of his house, his trade, and his fortune. The reformers, however, carry their Luddism much further; their object is a division of the land, and the extinction of all great capitals, by sharing the general booty.

The Reports enter into the projects and proceedings of the Spafields assemblies, and the persons who promoted them; and show, what indeed no man can deny, that the meeting of December 2d was intended as a cover to an insurrection in London, which was to be the signal for tumultuous proceedings in the country had it succeeded; and which would unquestionably, have been attended with very mischievous consequences had it been deferred, as intended, till the evening. The whole was spoiled by the drunken precipitance of Watson the younger.

What measures ought to be adopted, in consequence of the existing state of things, we shall not presume to say: but that measures of a repressive kind ought to be adopted we have no doubt. The question is not, whether the right of petitioning shall be abridged; but whether plots against the country, and against every man in it who has security, liberty, and property to lose, shall be suffered to ripen. That the danger of an immediate subversion of government has been small, we are ready to allow; because society, at present, has too many bonds and cements to be shaken to pieces by the reformers. Too many of the people remain sound; and the whole of the respectable part of society, excepting some old democrats, and political fanatics, are from their interests, as well as principles, opposed to the reformers. The obvious unlikelihood of success has, indeed, been pleaded against the existence of a plot at all. But this is ridiculous. Men may argue from probability, but that does not annihilate facts; and the fact of an organized insurrection stands upon irresistible evidence. If the reformers themselves judged of things with as much coolness as the persons who thus argue, they would not have attempted insurrection on the 2d of December. But their heated fancy magnifies the importance of their cause; and their egregious concertedness the number of its abettors. The Jacobins of France were at first a small and contemptible party; but they had, like the returning faction, the address to appeal to the populace, and on their shoulders they wrote down all their rivals. The manufacturing Luddites were but few in number, yet their desperate character, joined to the false notion among the poor, that they were keeping up the price of labour, enabled them to keep, for a long time, whole districts in awe, and to prevent informations from being given. A system which spreads delusion among the ignorant, which turns the passions of men against government, except it be a republican one, which is essentially hostile to all those principles on which the constitution is founded, as understood by men of every party, except absolute democrats, cannot be suffered to run on to alienate the great body of the populace from the constitution, who, from their ignorance, are unable to detect the real intentions of their instigators. No government can suffer, or ought to suffer, this organization against itself. Let the right of petitioning remain untouched: but inflammatory public meetings, called by no authority, and affiliated societies, must be put down. It is the country which demands this from Government; it is demanded, not so much to protect Government, as the lives and property of the community.

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