Wednesday, 23 January 2013

23rd January 1813: The Leeds Mercury expresses relief that Luddism was unconnected to reformist politics & politicians

However afflictive the transactions the late Assize, under the Special Commission, at York, must have been to every humane mind, there is one point on which every friend to his Country, and every loyal heart – loyal in the true sense of the word, will find consolation; and that is, the discovery that the disturbances which have recently prevailed, stand unconnected with political men and political parties. In these disturbances, not an individual above the rank of the persons who have paid the forfeit of their lives to the injured laws of their country seems to have been concerned, either directly or indirectly.—In the Judge’s Charge the Grand Jury, his Lordship seemed to conceive that the erroneous opinions of the persons concerned in these disturbances, had been infused into their minds by some evil disposed persons, for the worst purposes; but there was not a tittle of evidence to support the supposition that these mistaken men acted under any sort of instigation other than that of persons engaged in their own pursuits. Nor is it necessary, to look to any other causes for a solution of their conduct. The objection to machinery amongst persons affected by its operation, is no new objection; nor are outrages on that account in former times, unknown to this country. Upwards of a dozen years ago, a vast number of persons riotously assembled in the streets of Leeds, and from thence proceeded to a Mill in this neighbourhood where Machinery used in the dressing of cloth was used, and completely destroyed the Mill. This spirit was again roused by the practices which so long prevailed in Nottinghamshire, accounts of which, Mr. Park observed, the persons engaged in these practices were in the habit of reading in the Newspapers—in all Newspapers—for these accounts, as forming a part of the history of the times, when inserted in every Newspaper in the kingdom.

The only part of the evidence given at the trials under the Special Commission, that seemed to have any political aspect, was that given by John Hinchliffe, who deposed, that when Scholefield was attempting to prevail upon him to take the illegal oath, he said that they were waiting to get a body of men within the liberty of Holmfirth,—they had got such a body at Huddersfield, and they wanted to get a body of men at all places, and then they might start in a moment and overthrow the Government; and that all the officers and men, except one Serjeant in a whole regiment, were twisted in, besides four of the Queen’s Bays. But no sober-minded man would lay any stress upon this redoubtable story, which carries on the face of it, a notorious falsehood; and which would if true, not so much implicate political as military men. We assert, then, and we appeal to the proceedings [at] every stage of the business [obscured] confirmation [obscured] [illegible], that there [illegible] arcana of this [illegible] combination [had] [obscured] got into, though persons most deeply implicated in its transactions, and best acquainted with its secrets have become evidence for the Crown, and made all the discoveries in their power, that there never was a combination of the same extent in this, or any other country, so perfectly free from all political subjects, or so entirely destitute of political characters. It is true, however, that indirectly the political relations of the country, and the want of a free commerce, have given an extension to this combination that it would never otherwise have acquired, and that the privation and deficiency of labour amongst the poor, have led men (in want of better employment,) to hazard their lives in these desperate enterprizes.

We shall at present only further observe, that conceiving it to be a vast importance to the restoration of the public tranquillity to lay before the public, with promptitude, the proceedings under the Special Commission York; we have spared no pains to affect so desirable a purpose, and it may without arrogance claim the exclusive [merit] of having by those exertions given to our readers in a certain sense to the whole kingdom, faithful history of the transactions of an assize equal in importance to almost any occurrence in the criminal jurisprudence of this country.

This editorial appeared in the Leeds Mercury of 23rd January 1813.

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