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

Page IX - XV


I HAD determined to publish Observations and Notes, on the papers presented by Ministers to Parliament, relative to the internal state of the country, before Mr. Francis Philips's Pamphlet came out. For it seemed to me of importance, that the public should be aware, upon what insufficient and how frequently upon what false statements, the good character and loyalty of the inhabitants of this extensive and populous district had been impeached.

A Reply to Mr. Philips's "Exposure," &c. was a not unnatural addition to my original plan; and I decided more readily upon noticing that pamphlet, because I might thereby have an opportunity of introducing facts and reasonings, which could not be easily connected with mere comments upon the parliamentary papers, but with which, in order to furnish the means of forming a just conclusion upon subjects that have created such unexampled interest, it was necessary that the Nation should be acquainted.

I cannot pretend to view recent events here, merely as a citizen of the world. I cannot undertake to assert, that my judgment has been wholly freed from the influence of my political opinions. But I hope I know myself sufficiently to render it neither unsafe nor presumptuous for me to say, I am not capable of wilfully suppressing any fact, whatever might be its operation, even upon an argument I desired to establish; and that no local occurrence, sufiiciently authentic and important to influence public proceedings, would be likely to escape my notice.

I wish it to be distinctly understood, that whatever I may say in the subsequent pages, respecting Mr. Francis Philips, will be meant to apply to him exclusively as a writer and a politician. I disclaim all intention of treating him with personal disrespect. But it affords little prospect of ultimate agreement with a writer, when the first page of his Preface contains a statement, not to be disputed as matter of opinion, but to be directly contradicted as untrue.

I am not about to charge Mr. Philips with designed mis-statements, but they who undertake the "exposure of calumnies," should take care to be free themselves; not merely from the imputation of calumny, but of ignorance. Mr. Philips says, in reference to the "declaration and protest," that, "notwithstanding the persuasive arguments of the leaders, whose exertions were indefatigable, the total number of signatures amounted only to 580 names." It is true, that the number of names advertized in the Manchester papers, was not more than Mr. Philips has mentioned; but the number of persons by whom the "declaration and protest" were signed, was more than ten times as great; in other words, between five and six thousand: and it is further true, that the document itself, with the whole of the names subjoined, was printed and published in the shape of a small pamphlet, long before Mr. Philips's "Exposure" came out. It is, however, certainly possible, that Mr. Philips may have been unacquainted with this fact. Should it be asked, why the whole of the names were not advertized in the newspapers, I answer, it was thought better to put them into a more permanent shape; and also, that as our political expenses are not paid out Of the poor's rates, economy was necessarily kept in view. If I mistake not, Mr. Philips will understand my allusion.

To the revilings, which Mr. Philips applies to those by whom the "declaration and protest" were signed, I consider' it beneath me to reply. As the character of those gentlemen can be in no danger from his attacks, so, neither could I serve them by the obtrusion of a defence.

But if it be matter of complaint in Mr. Philips's estimation, that at the time our document was signed, the "passions excited at the instant" of the meeting, "could not have given way to reflection," what upon his own principle can be said in favour of the meeting at the Star Inn, held on the 19th of August, for the purpose of thanking the magistrates, military &c. five days before the declaration and protest was drawn up? Oh, that of course was "a most respectable and numerous meeting - "the large room at the Star Inn was crowded. Since 1812, when the last public town's-meeting was held, and the Exchange windows and furniture destroyed, I do not recollect a fuller attendance (parish meetings of ley-payers excepted,) and in point of respectability, I never witnessed one superior to it." So, by its managers, this assembly was designated as "a numerous and highly respectable meeting of THE inhabitants of ManCHESTER and SALFORD, and their NEIGHBOURHOOD;" they meaning thereby falsely to insinuate, that the inhabitants at large knew of, or recognized, the meeting, or would have been permitted to attend it; when the fact is, that no public notice of it was given; - that invitations were addressed exclusively to those who were supposed to be favourable to the object of it; - that those who did not approve of its views, were repeatedly requested to leave the room; and that all deliberation or discussion on certain points was exclusively forbidden. The "large" room, where this delectable assembly took place, measures about twenty-six feet by fourteen, and more than one-sixth of its space was occupied by furniture. My informant assures me, he could have walked with ease to any part of it. There could not, therefore, have been more than one hundred persons present; and indeed he thinks there were not more than seventy or eighty. But even taking the number of one hundred, the proportion would not be greater than about one in fifteen hundred of the inhabitants of that district, as emanating from which, these resolutions are attempted to be palmed upon the Nation.

Mr. Philips intimates, that there was not "at the time, the slightest idea that the conduct of the Magistrates could have been censured." When he wrote that sentence he knew, he could not but know, that the meeting was adjourned from the police office (where it was originally appointed,) to the Star Inn, precisely because one individual by whom it was notorious that the conduct of the Magistrates was blamed, had taken his station in the room.

Mr. Philips no doubt, is better qualified than any other person to give us a confession of his political faith, but I may be permitted to express my regret, that in the self-drawn sketch with which he has favoured us, I have not been able to recognize a trace of the original. What claim he can make out which will entitle him to be considered "the friend of liberty, the advocate of the people's rights," I do not know; but I am sure, that within my recollection, no one measure of domestic policy, calculated to extend or to secure "the people's rights," has had the support of that party to which he is considered to belong. Of every act of intimidation, restriction, and severity, against the people, they have been the advocates; and I am not aware that there is a single measure of ministerial policy (unless the corn bill be considered such) of which they have not been the firm and ardent supporters. When the constitutional laws of the, country have been suspended, when the property, the character, and the liberty, of individuals, instead of being protected by law, has been held by the mere discretional sufferance of orange-club Magistrates; these measures not only have been sanctioned by their approval, but, unless public report be widely wrong, sometimes adopted at their suggestions.

To enter into the great question of Parliamentary Reform, would here be out of place. But certainly the doctrine of "Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Election by Ballot," from the strong hold which it has obtained in the minds of the people, deserves to be better refuted, if it can be so, than by the flippant common-place assertion of Mr. Philips, "that the first is madness, the second child's play, and the third roguery and intrigue."

Holding the conviction that a much less radical reform would secure the objects of most reformers, and give the people an effective controul in the House of Commons, I must yet say, that I have never seen what appears to me to be valid reasons against the abstract propriety of the most extensive scheme; and I certainly think, it would be far more becoming in those by whom the doctrine of "Annual Parliaments, &c." is opposed, to furnish us with arguments against their eligibility, than to content themselves with abusing that large portion of the community by whom such a reform is desired from a conscientious decision in its favour.

I would also enforce as strongly as I can, the propriety of putting the most favourable construction possible, upon the general demeanour of the people. There are suflicient furious and unreasoning zealots on each side. Moderate and sensible men, therefore, ought to discriminate between individuals guilty of personal improprieties of conduct; the mass from which the former should be considered as the excrescences. I have not a word to say in defence of the presumption, vulgarity, and violence, of some self-styled reformers, on one hand; but I certainly do think the inhumanity, the ignorance, and the rancorous bitterness of many anti-reformers, equally inexcusable on the other. Indeed, there is no class which exhibits such a compound of injurious and unamiable qualities, there is none less fit for public business, or more fond of interfering in it, than a plebeian aristocracy. With more pride than the natural aristocracy of the country, they have less knowledge and less liberality. - With a rank that commands, and a character that deserves, less respect, they are far more intolerant and assuming, and there are few, very few of them, to whom power is entrusted, that "bear their faculties meekly." If I had given as many proofs of this assertion as the transactions of the last four or tive months would have enabled me to adduce, my demands upon the patience of my readers would be too great; but there will be found in the ensuing pages sufficient examples to testify the truth of my remark.

Mr. Philips, as the posthumous expositor of Mr. Pitt's principles, assures us, that that minister would "not have conceded an iota; never would have reasoned with any mob, nor with any body of men that attempted to succeed by intimidation." Suppose this to be the literal statement fact, what is it to us? But neither Mr. Pitt, nor any other minister, can controul circumstances; and however imposing and high-minded Mr. Pitt's assumed course of conduct appear to Mr. Philips, its prudence and its propriety may yet be very questionable. A just man (but unfortunately ministers of state seldom are just men) would inquire whether the wishes of the people were reasonable, and their demands those, with which they had a right to claim compliance; whilst a prudent man would attempt, by the·influence of reason, by every kind conciliatory argument, to withdraw them from the pursuit of objects, injurious or unattainable; and not rush wantonly into that conflict with the most numerous class of the population, of which, though the result might not be doubtful, the consequences must necessarily be tremendous. But the fact is, that when the people were silent as to reform, the mere statement that they were so, was held to be a sufficient answer to all the arguments in its favour. And now that all, or at least a majority of our labouring population, has loudly demanded a change in the representative system, the cry for that change is to be stifled by brute force, because the people have not uttered it precisely in the tone most agreeable to the delicate and sensitive nerves of the advocates of existing abuses.

I am fully aware, that there are many other points connected with the subjects of which the following pages treat, that it might have been desirable to notice; but it was of importance that I should lose no time in submitting to the public such observations as circumstances seemed most particularly to require. I was in hopes that I might anticipate some of the new ministerial enactments; but I now find that, before my pages issue from the press, we shall be "living under a very different constitution, from that of England." Mr. Canning may remember having once used that phrase, and when the "libel bill" and the "search for arms bill" obtrude themselves upon his recollection, perhaps he may admit that they are but too illustrative of the truth of the assertion, particularly if he should ever learn what a conscientious inquiry after truth could not fail to teach him, viz. how base are the misrepresentations, - how baseless the pretences, to which the liberties of Britons have been sacrificed.


Transcribed PAGES from 'Notes & Observations ...'




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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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