Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

approaches; and dispersing instantly at the firing of a gun, or other signal agreed upon; sometimes also using signals by rocksets or blue lights, which enable them to communicate from one of their parties to the other.' It is the less to be wondered at, that so well disciplined an army should have been able to levy contributions in money, which serves the double purpose

of sup'port, and of inducement to persons to join them,' (we suppose by recruiting bounty, and the marching guinea.) Of course, they have not been unmindful of the essential duty of great commanders, the establishment of magazines; they have, we find, for a long time, been plundering all the country of arms, powder, and lead for casting into balls; in some districts the arins of all the peaceful 'inhabitants have been swept away by these armed bands; and at one place, (Sheffield,) they attacked the depôt of the local militia, destroying part, and carrying off some of the arms found there. If such be the perfection of the military system of this new European power, whose dominions extend through the central counties of the Island of Britain, its civil polity is in a state no less advanced.

A secret committee is the great mover of the whole machine;' societies, in subordination each to its own secret committee, are formed every where; delegates pass continually from place to place, to concert their plans; and signs are arranged by which the persons engaged in these conspiracies are known to each

other. The most horrid oaths again form, as it were, the Liturgy of the community, binding each other to mischief, and assassination, and secrecy; nor is it possible, in consequence of those acts, and the system of terror established, to bring any one engage ed in these affairs, to justice.

Such is the phantom conjured up by the Committee of 1812! Now no one is silly enough to contend, that the Arms and Oaths Bills, then passed, could have the slightest effect in dissolving or counteracting a plan so deep laid and so well matured,--the more especially as hardly any thing was done under these acts. Yet, in a few months, no one recollected the existence either of phantom or report; the new military power was 'blotted out from the map of England; of its civil government, 'etiam periere ruina. The special commission held at York the ensuing winter, for trying offences connected with machinery (as they all were,) found no difficulty in trying and convicting some dozens of their ringleaders by the old law of the land ; not one witness was molested for his testimony, nor a magistrate for his exertions; and the evidence of the Crown, in some most important particulars, directly falsified the statements in the Reports of the Secret Committees.

Unfortunately all this deception, so successfully practised, and so satisfactorily exposed, was forgotten in 1817—to such a degree, that there was as much alarm excited by the reading of the oath in

Parliament, as if it were a mere novelty-no one recollecting that a copy of the self-same oath is given in the Reports of 1812. The Committee of 1817 begin with a terrific description of the plan formed for attacking and seizing London; the Tower and Bank were to be invaded; the different barracks taken; the prisons opened, and their inmates armed: And all this was not sufficiently extensive-for it is represented as only being part of a general plan of rebellion and insurrection. The scheme, it seems, extended all over the country, both England and Scotland, looking to the leading persons in London' for orders and example. Clubs were every where formed under_the names of · Hampden' and Union' Clubs, ostensibly for Reform,—and by many of their members only known as connected with that object, but designed by others to connect the members of the conspiracy. A Spencean Society is described as engaged in plans of dividing the land, and destroying the funds; and a general system of propagating sedition and blasphemy, by cheap publications, is stated to be pursued.

The acquittal of the persons charged with the famous London Plot, was the first blow which this notable story required; its details were found to be too ridiculous to deserve one moment's credit. The Spenceans were next found to amount in all to less than a dozen, headed by a worthy brace-maker; and the errors of this little sect were discovered to be of a religious but fanatical cast. No one since that time has ever had the courage to pretend a dread of the Spenceans; the bare mention of whose name would now, prone as we still are to alarm, excite a smile in the most loyal compady in the land: Yet three years have not elapsed since they formed the principal features in the Plot of the Season; their reveries were cited in Ministerial Speeches; their tenets, equally hostile to landholders and stockholders, were held up by committees to the intimidation of both; a grave and solemn statute was passed to put them down; and the dread of them actually formed the main ground of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act for a year. The attack on the Prince Regent's person was carefully connected by the same Reports with the general conspiracy; and the courtiers represented it as made with a pistol and slugs, until the most positive demonstration proved the physical impossibility of a bullet making two holes, by rebounding on the perpendicular glass of a carriage. But a truly remarkable circumstance was, that the Rebels of 1817 seemed to have no arms, nor ammunition, nor drilling, nor other military organization; a tumultuous meeting at Spafields, and a riot in some gunsmiths' shops, were their only tactics; so that the armies, the magazines, the treasure, the excellent discipline both of horse and foot, which had rendered the Land of Lud so formidable to the neighbouring powers in 1812, had entirely disappeared ; and this mighty state had sunk into VOL. I.

11

total oblivion, so as not even to be commemorated by the Secret Reporters a melancholy example of the vicissitudes of Empire! This military commonwealth, however, had been, it seems, melted into a civil community of many hundreds of thousands, all linked in secret associations, and moved at will by the power of a London Committee. They were even represented as beginning to arm themselves, though no explanation whatever was given how they had come to lose their former equipments. But a formidable, though not a very unexpected enemy, soon began his operations against this confederation, in the shape of a plentiful harvest; and, before the end of the year 1317, no more was heard of plots, armings, central bodies, combined operations, and Spencean schemes, than if Select Committees had never been.

Here let us pause, to mark the strange passion for political alarm that seems so deeply rooted in the people of this country, excited almost at the will of their rulers; again and again agitating them to acts of violence, blinding them to the grossest impostures, beguiling them of all regard to their dignity or their interest; changing only its object or its direction, but always ready to rise at the call of those who can serve their own ends by reproducing it; and so entirely independent of reason, that no experience of its groundlessness one year, seems to cure the general predisposition to indulge in it the next. - - When the great influence of Government in all its departments throughout the country, is considered, we shall understand the facilities which the Ministers of the day always possess, when they are desirous of propagating a temporary delusion. Not only the avowed agents of power are every where at work, speaking the same language, and using their direct authority to enforce their doctrines; not only the press is at work weekly and daily to repeat, with every gross exaggeration, and even all the resources of the most shameless fabrication, the tale of terror which its patrons wish to have borne round the land; but all the adherents of the system, from expectation, or recollection, or mere vanity and love of importance, are eternally echoing the cry proceeding from above. It serves to silence their honest but annoying adversaries—it is better than a thousand arguments-it enables them to triumph for the moment, by hunting down as disaffected all who are slow to believe; and experience tells them how little risk they run, of being discredited at any one time by former convictions of falsehood or of folly.

We are now to see the application of these remarks to the late alarm, closely resembling the former panics in all its essential particulars, except the more dangerous purposes to which it has been made subservient. We must premise, that nothing can be further from our intention than to deny that a general discontent has for some years prevailed through the country; that it has been on the increase of latę; that it especially infects populous districts, like those where manufactures are spread ; that it is ready to be turned by factious and unprincipled demagogues to dangerous purposes ; that when distress prevails, it is always most to be dreaded; and that, to secure the peace of the State against its effects, demands the vigilant care of the Executive Government. Whatever be the more remote origin of this spirit, we conceive the load of taxation under which the community labours, to be the chief proximate cause of its increased diffusion, to which we may add, the generally prevailing distrust of the Government, from the alternate harshness and feebleness of its measures, and their consistency only in one point, a resolute, unfeeling, insulting denial of all redress of grievances, all economical reform, and all improvement, however moderate, in the representative system. That the old law of the land was amply sufficient to cope with the disaffected, had it been administered by steady hands, and accompanied with the spirit of conciliation, we hold to be equally manifest; and the folly of believing in any conspiracies beyond the one which we have been deseribing, must appear plain, if we only attend to the proofs on which, in an evil hour for their own case, and contrary to the sounder advice of Lord Grenville and Mr. Plunket, the Ministers bave choosed to rest it.

At the beginning of last July, the acting magistrates for the Manchester district, appear to have announced to the Government their apprehensions that 'some alarming insurrection was in contemplation.' They distinctly state the existence of great distress ; and justly observe, that when the people are oppressed with hun'ger, they do not wonder at their giving ear to any doctrines which

they are told will redress their grievances:'-a circumstance very much overlooked both by Lord Grenville and Mr. Plunket, who assert, that the disaffection is unconnected with distress, and whose view of the subject would, therefore, have been materially aided by proceeding upon the notoriety of the facts, and producing no documents at all. The same magistrates add their expectations of “a general rising at no distant period,' and mention two meetings as in preparation : But it is important to remark, that they speak of distress, and the harangues of demagogues, as the only grounds of their apprehension; advert to no combination or secret plots ; and make no use whatever of the word 'conspiracy.' In a fortnight after this, they adopted the excellent precaution of forming an armed association, to aid the civil power in keeping the peace; and, when the Manchester meeting on the 9th of August was advertised, for the purpose of choosing a Member of Parliament, or Legislatorial Attorney, they wisely gave warning to the people that such a proceeding was illegal. This prudent measure too had the desired effect; a notice was issued that no such meeting would be

held; and another meeting, on the subject of reform only, was called for the 16th, after a formal requisition had been given in to the Borough Reeve to summon one, and he had declined. (Papers laid before Parliament, pp. 5, 9, 10.)

About ten days before this fatal day, we find the Magistrates communicating to Government the information that drilling was going on very extensively,' and at the same time that 'flags and caps of liberty' were provided in the neighbouring towns, evidently for adorning their processions. Soon after, depositions are transmitted respecting the system of drilling; and these testimonies deserve our most serious attention. They are thirty-seven in number, of which nine only are given with the names of the informants, the remaining twenty-eight being distinguished only by the letters of the alphabet; and of the nine which appear in their real names, four are the examinations of persons taken in the act of drilling, and the other five seem to have been spies sent by the Magistrates. But it is most material to observe how differently the nameless witnesses speak, and how much more strong these statements are. The persons with names, all, with one exception, speak of drilling in small bodies, and either at seven in the morning, or in the evening before nightfal. The anonymous deponents speak of meetings in the dead of the night, and in great numbers, and with a degree of discipline of which no mention is made by the others.

Passing over such discrepancies between the anonymous gentlemen, as that one could count 400 or 500 men at drill in the dark, at the same time that another could see nothing ; (p. 21.) and such improbabilities, as, that a person should, in giving his first account of a nightly meeting, leave out almost all the most remarkable particulars, and then make a supplementary affidavit of them, two days afterwards, (p. 22.)—we may take notice of the depositions of three unknown persons, (p. 21.) who all describe a night drill in such a manner as can leave no manner of doubt in any one's mind, that the object of those concerned in it was innocent, according to their notions, and that it was to prepare them for bearing part in a procession on the 16th; the captain after exercising his men, having announced to them, that their meeting was put off, on account of their paper being illegal ; but that this would give them more time, and that they would want a colour, and twelve young ladies to carry it!' Another witness describes a drill, or parade, or field-day, (for it does not exactly appear which,) as being held near the highway, and relates the 'march of the persons concerned, in companies, on the road itself, he having seen and conversed with them from the mail coach, then passing through them. (p. 25.) Nor is there one single deposition, even from the anonymous witnesses, that gives the least impression of any mystery or concealment being used, in the whole course of these

« ForrigeFortsæt »