Wednesday, 12 December 2012

12th December 1812: Tory & Liberal publications do their best to insult the Luddites

In December 1812, both the Tory Leeds Intelligencer & Whig Leeds Mercury were conducting a war of words. The spat had begun of 7th December, when the Leeds Intelligencer chose to describe the perpetrators of & the motives behind the robberies at Deighton & Fartown in a particular way:
Those Reforming Gentry, the Luddites, have now converted their plans into a complete system of marauding and plunder. Last Sunday night a gang of about a dozen perpetrated the following robberies at Fartown near Huddersfield: At the house of William Walker, they obtained about 20l; at George Scholes’s 20l. besides spiritous liquors; and James Brook’s 1 Guinea and a Watch; at William Radcliff’s 20l. in money and goods; and Moses Ball’s some Silver, and at Josiah Thornton’s about 5l and nearly murdered his wife! And yet we were told lately, that all Luddism was at an end.

There are not wanting persons who pretend that distinction is to be made between Luddites, and Thieves and Robbers. How will such explain the late proceedings of Fartown? The advocates of Luddism pretend that the Fartown thieves were not Yorkshireman. The plundered inhabitants of Fartown will tell you that the speech of the assailants betrayed their country and their parish. But their object was honourable—and honourable, no doubt, will be the pleader who espouses their cause, though fed with Fartown gold. It is said, that the Luddites are collecting money to fee Counsel! One of the Fartown thieves is identified, but will not at present impeach his accomplices. 
The Leeds Mercury of Saturday 12th December responded in the main section to the Intelligencer's accusations about how the Luddites legal Counsel was being funded: 
Every man with the feelings of an Englishman, must read with indignation an attempt to stigmatize the persons who may be professionally employed to plead the cause, or assist in the defence of the prisoners now confined in our County Gaol, on charges of Luddism. Are these men to be put out of the pale of the Constitution, and to be debarred the privilege of a fair trial? This is not a matter of favour, but of right; and whoever endeavours to deprive them of their privileges, acts in contradiction of the laws of his country, and endeavours to introduce a system better fitted to the times of Jefferies than to the days the righteous Judges who now adorned the British Bench. If the prisoners, after a fair trial, with all the advantages given to persons in the unfortunate situation by the law, be found guilty, every friend to the peace and well-being of society, will wish them to meet the punishment due to their crime; but no man but a Jefferies or a Monk, will wish to dam up against them the avenues of justice, by depriving them of the best legal assistance they can procure

In another section of the same edition, the Mercury's 'Huddersfield Correspondent' chose to slur the Luddites indirectly, by associating them with the variety of oppressors they hated the most:
The depredators at Fartown, are, by the advocates of abuses, called Reformers; but this is certainly an improper term, they are much more nearly allied to those State Luddites that fatten on corruption, and exist by public plunder!
Much the same vacuous arguments have been in evidence throughout the bicentenary, re-insulting the Luddites from 200 years ago and those who carry their flame today.

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