The Massacre of Peterloo, Manchester, 16th August 1819

The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819


'NOTES & OBSERVATIONS, Critical & Explanatory, on the Papers Relative to
the Internal State of the Country, Recently Presented to Parliament
to which is appended,
a REPLY to Mr. Francis Philips's
'Exposure of the Calumnies circulated by the Enemies of Social Order ...
PAGE LIST (below) with LINKS

&c. &c.

Pages 69 to 72 (with footnotes to page 76)

Knowsley, September 7, 1819.

My Lord,
I HAVE been directed by the Grand Jury, assembled at the present Assizes for this county, to sign, as their Foreman, their statement of the unhappily disturbed situation in which (upon examination, which they have thought it their duty to make) they have found the county, or rather a large district of it, to be placed.

In compliance, therefore, with their directions, I have now the honour to lay before your Lordship the accompanying statement, a copy of which, I have also been directed to lay before the Lord Lieutenant of the county, and

I remain,
My Lord,
Your Lordship's
Most obedient humble servant,

The Lord Sidmouth,
&c. &c. &c.


The Grand Jury of the County of Lancaster have thought it their duty to inquire into the present state of the disturbed districts of that county, and they have examined persons who appeared to them the most competent to give accurate information on the subject.

From the result of that inquiry it appears, that the most inflammatory publications have for some time been industriously circulated, at a price which puts them very generally into the hands of the poorest classes of society. The training and military drilling of large bodies of men, under regular leaders, have for some time been carried on to a great extent, and the times chosen for the purpose, are principally during the night, or at such hours as seem best calculated to elude public observation. Marching, and other military movements, are practised with great precision; and the words of command are promptly and implicitly obeyed. It has not come to the knowledge of the Grand Jury, that arms have been used on these occasions; and though there is no doubt that weapons of offence have been manufactured, yet to what amount does not appear.

One of the most powerful engines to which the disaffected have resorted, is a system of intimidation, which prevails to a most serious and alarming degree. Not only have threats to persons and property been made use of, AND PUT INTO EXECUTION, but even combinations have been formed, to discountenance and to ruin those publicans and shopkeepers, who have come forward in support of the civil power. To such an extent does this prevail, that individuals who are well-disposed, are deterred from declaring the sentiments which they really entertain, or from giving information which may lead to the detection of offenders.

Whatever may be the real object of those, who have obtained an influence over the minds of the misguided, there is reason to believe, from the declarations which have been openly and avowedly made, that the object of the lower classes of these people in general, is no other than to reverse the orders of society, which have so long been established, and to wrest by force from the present possessors, and to divide among themselves, the landed property of the country.

The Magistrates who act in the disturbed districts, and who are few in number, and harassed by continued and unremitting attention to their duties, state themselves to be unable to preserve the public peace, under any circumstances of peculiar agitation.

Resort has recently been had to the Watch and Ward Act; but in many parts of the above-mentioned districts, the measure is, for obvious reasons, incapable of being carried into effect, and in others has proved wholly inefficacious. Indeed, in one populous district, no warrant for ordinary offences, or other legal process, can be executed; the payment of taxes has ceased, and the landlords are threatened with the discontinuance of their rents.

The Grand Jury think it their duty to submit these facts and observations to the Lord Lieutenant of the County, and to his Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, and at the same time to express their firm determination to support the Government of the Country, and to maintain unimpaired the Constitution, as at present established in Church and State. (a)

Signed by direction of the Grand Jury,
Foreman .
Grand Jury Room, Lancaster,
Sept. 6, 1819.

(a) Upon this document, I feel it difficult to comment according to my conception of its deserts. The character and high consideration of the gentlemen, forming the Lancashire Grand Jury, must shield them from wanton or intemperate blame, even if considerations of personal prudence did not necessarily restrain my pen. But, however high may be my respect for the public character or the private virtues of the members of the Grand Jury, my anxiety for the preservation of the uncontaminated and unimpeachable purity of the laws of England, is a still more powerful feeling. For, if ever there be the slightest ground to justify a belief - if ever there be even a prevalent suspicion, that political partialities have the slightest influence in determining the decisions of the former, then adieu! a long and lasting adieu! to public confidence in the equal administration of the laws, and in the unbending integrity of our criminal jurisprudence. Hence it is most manifestly desirable, that Grand Juries should always keep themselves studiously aloof from any interference in the political turmoils of the day; or, if their sense of duty induce them to adopt any political declaration, that they should preserve a broad and palpable distinction between their conduct as Grand Jurors, and as politicians, and never suffer themselves to throw public obloquy on the character, and motives, and conduct of others, on that partial and ex parte evidence; which, nevertheless in their ofiicial capacity as Grand Jurors, they would justly and properly put in a condition for being answered, by finding, upon its authority, a bill of indictment. If, where an indictment is found, the evidence for the prosecution be defective, either in force or truth, it is met, and its effects are obviated, by the testimony for the defence. But what man, or what body of men, can hope to repel a political charge, even though it be unjust, which is supported, not by the partial testimony of an interested prosecutor, but upon the personal avouch of a Lancashire Grand Jury? And further, should not any political declaration, which such a body may think it right to make, be addressed to the public at large, who might see their opinions, learn by their advice, and profit by their experience, if it did not conform to their judgment? Ought we not to regard with the most scrupulous jealousy any private communication between any constituent part of our criminal Court of Justice, and a minister of state? Particularly at a period, when those courts are filled with prosecutions, to which that minister is almost personally a party. And if circumstances should arise to bring him, or any of the subordinate administrators of the law, either immediately or virtually before the Grand Jury, on the prosecution of those whom they also prosecute, can the latter, whatever may be the real state of the case - can they have that implicit confidence in the decisions of the Grand Jury, which, but for their political declarations, would unreservedly have been expressed and felt? This is no reflection upon the Grand Jury, for we all well know, and daily feel, how difficult it is, on occasions where impartiality is an imperative duty, entirely to free the mind from the operation of political prejudices on the one hand, or partialities on the other. But, when in the place of suppositions, we have facts - when are see bills of Indictment reciprocally presented by the two parties - by those whom the Grand Jury have consulted, against those whom they have denounced, and by those whom they have denounced, against those whom they have consulted, (for the magistrates were virtually implicated in the charges brought against the Yeomanry, at the last Lancaster assizes, and would have been actually so, but that the prosecutors were not then in a condition to prove that the latter proceeded under the orders of the former;) - can we, without absolutely forgetting the influence of human passions - without entirely overlooking the constitution of human nature itself, expect that the Grand Jury should regard both parties with equal impartiality, when with one of them they had already committed, or were prepared to commit themselves as partizans, in direct opposition to the other? I impute no blame to the GrandJury - they would not, I am sure, intentionally act wrong - but HE who taught us to pray, that we might not be led into temptation, never meant that we should blindly or needlessly rush into it.

But the most serious part of the question, yet remains to be considered. Even when the safety or the reputation of a single individual is concerned, when he is accused merely of a common offence, the law not only presumes him innocent until he is proved to be guilty, but takes care that the evidence by which his guilt is ascertained shall be definite in its character, and precise in its application; leaving the truth of it to be determined by a Jury, who, after hearing all the testimony in defence, decide which way the balance of credibility inclines. Who, however, ap- peared before this Jury, Grand Jury no longer in respect of their functions or their duties, as THE ADVOCATE OF THE PEOPLE? By whom were the witnesses in their favour produced, or the evidence against them sifted and scrutinized, and cross examined? Or was there none but on one side? Was there no attempt to watch the conflict of opposing testimony, and thence elicit the truth? Let us take a few passages from the letter to Lord Sidmouth, and from them, form our opinion upon the subject. I shall yet, however, further premise, that, in proportion as the crime alleged is enormous, in such proportion should be increased the clearness, the precision, the strength, of that testimony by which the proof of it is to be substantiated. Nor should we condemn a great number of persons on the same quantum of evidence, which would justly he decisive against an individual. Hence we ought to require, that a charge, by which the liberty, if not the lives, of so many tens perhaps hundreds of thousands of our fellow countrymen is involved, should be supported, not by presumptions, however pregnant, but by proof, the most ample, formal, and infallible. The Grand Jury say, "they have examined persons, who appeared to them, the most competent to give accurate information upon the subject." \Who those persons are, they do not inform us; and I confess myself quite at a loss to conceive upon what foundation they place the right, or can be prepared to defend the practice, of examining witnesses, unconnected with any indictment laid officially before them, or with any presentment which they were about to make to the court. But they have "examined the persons most competent to give information." Where are the examinations? Were they taken upon oath? Were the parties disinterested witnesses? Or had they any inducements to create an impression, which might operate against accused personsof whom they themselves were directly or indirectly the prosecutors? It is true, that the date of this document will place it at the conclusion of the sittings of the Grand Jury. But, might not the evidence have been taken previously, though the document was not signed? Or at least might not the feelings which prompted the determination thus to address Lord Sidmouth, have been previously existent, though the act itself were not then consummated ? Upon these points, without meaning any disrespect to the Grand Jury, I think the Country has a right to expect to be informed.

Having already fully examined the affidavits respecting drilling, upon that part of the address of the Grand Jury, which relates to the same subject, I shall say nothing. The assertion, that "not only have threats to persons and property been made use of, and put into execution; but even combinations have been formed, to discountenance and ruin those shop-keepers, who have come forward in aid of the civil power," is unfortunately not wholly unfounded. Since the 16th of August, but not before that day, such attacks have in a few, but only a very few instances been made, and then solely on persons whose unnecessary and gratuitous violence had renderedthem particularly obnoxious. Nor can it be denied, that combinations have also been formed to discountenance and ruin (but simply, by the poor withholding their own custom from them,) those publicans and shopkeepers," the natural consequence of whose own behaviour, was to give rise to them. But whatever degree of blame may attach to combinations such as I have been noticing, it must not be inferred, that they are confined to the Reformers. On the contrary, not only have they been strenuously recommended in the loyal newspapers, but they have been put in force by ladies, or at least persons, who should have acted as such, going round the town, and using violent threats, to induce shopkeepers to sign the self-styled "loyal declarations."

The Grand Jury afterwards proceed: "there is reason to believe, from the declarations which have been openly made, that the object of the lower classes of thes people in general, is no other than to reverse the orders of society which have so long been established, and to wrest by force from the present possessors, and to divide amongst themselves, the landed property of the country." The persons against whom this charge is made, comprise a vast and daily increasing majority of the inhabitants, in the most populous districts of the kingdom. When, where, and by whom, were these "declarations made?" Who are the witnesses, by whose credit the accusation is supported? Or even, if individuals have made such declarations, is it just, that hundreds of thousands should be implicated in the follies, the faults, or the crimes, of a few? They who presume any considerable portion of the labouring poor to harbour so atrocious a project, are, if possible, more ignorant with respect to their intelligence, than unjust in the estimation of their principles. The poor, taken as a body, (I am ready to stake my life for the truth of the assertion,) have no wish whatever, to invade the property of their affluent neighbours; but, when the most arduous and unremitting industry scarce serves to afford them a scanty and stinted sustenance - when, in place of enjoying those comforts to which their industry gives them a right, they are, for successive weeks, and months, and years, in want even of the necessaries of life - when they know, (and of that fact they are well informed,) that taxation, by enhancing the price of every article of food, or clothes, absorbs nearly the half even of their miserable earnings; can it be a matter of surprise, that they complain and are dissatisfied? \

When year after year passes away, yet relief comes not, nor the pressure of distress is lightened; as the lengthening period of its duration exhausts the ability to sustain it - when peace, so long associated with the ideas of plenty, is to them only a continuation of suffering, ought we to wonder, if they should not scrupulously keep within the bounds of measured and moderate remonstrance? But when treason is the crime alleged, and half the nation are the parties accused, what is the statement of the Grand Jury? That "there is reason to believe!!" Are the people of England to be satisfied with this vague and undefined suspicion? Is it not unjust to build so serious a charge upon so untenable a basis? Would it not be monstrous to credit it? But the Grand Jury proceed. "In one populous district, no warrant for ordinary offences, or other legal process, can be executed - the payment of taxes has ceased, and the landlords are threatened with the discontinuance of their rents." I inquire where that district lies? Strange indeed it is, that no source of private information - no vehicle of public intelligence should have communicated this alarming fact, till we find it thus whispered into Lord Sidmouth's ear, by the Lancashire Grand Jury: why have we never heard of it before? Was it concealed from Mr. Harrop? Or did it stagger his credulity? Did Mr. Wheeler hesitate to adopt it? Why did. it not occupy a place in the veracious columns of the Post, or the Sun, the Courier, or the New Times? Or was it purposely concealed from them as a bonne bouche, to stimulate the political appetite of the gentlemen at the assizes? I confidently trust however, that the principles of British Justice, and of British Law, cannot be so far forgotten or overlooked, as that this astounding statement, unsupported and unauthenticated as it is, can receive a moment's credence. The "payment of taxes" may have "ceased;" the payment of "Rents" may have been " discontinued;" but, if it be so, to poverty and not politics, must we look for the cause.


Transcribed PAGES from 'Notes & Observations ...'




(inc. footnotes)

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'NOTES & OBSERVATIONS, Critical & Explanatory, on the Papers Relative to the Internal State of the Country, Recently Presented to Parliament; to which is appended, a REPLY to Mr. Francis Philips's 'Exposure of the Calumnies circulated by the Enemies of Social Order ...'
by a 'Member of the Manchester Committee for Relieving the Sufferers of the 16th August 1819 (Ascribed to John Edward Taylor)
Pub. Dec1919

Transcribed by Sheila Goodyear 2019

LINK to full .pdf document of 'Notes & Observations ...' on the Internet Archive website to read or download.
LINK to .pdf file of 'Exposure of the Calumnies...' on the Internet Archive website to read or download

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