Assess the causes and consequences ofthe ‘Peterloo’ massacre.On August 16th 1819 ,in StPeter’s field Manchester , a Calvary charge was led into a crowd of peaceful radicalprotesters in what resulted in the death of 15 people and hundreds to beinjured in what has become known as one of the most tragic consequences of governmentparanoia in British history .It was theresult of various factors especially the economic situation which worsenedbecause of the Napoleonic wars and government paranoia because of the French revolution.Like many instances we have witnessed since then , the status quo was threatenedby the uniting of the working classes and their demands of reform and so theconsequences of the Peterloo massacre wasvaried from public outrage to further government repression .
One of the forefront problems thatled to the massacre was the state of the country after the French revolution andthe paranoia that followed from government officials. Peterloo was burdened with a complex prehistory of intense social andpolitical conflict, a prehistory that found expression in the rituals ofsymbolic power1. This revolution was one that truly shook European monarchies to thecore and severely threatened the upper classes everywhere.
After fighting inthe Napoleonic wars Britain was left in a slightly delicate situation wherealthough they had triumphed at Waterloo they were left with skyrocketing unemployment,taxes and the cost of food . However, the most significant problem with theclosing of the Napoleonic Wars there was a resurgence of popular radicalism inEngland. Once again radicals held large public meetings, organized petitionsand formed associations demanding constitutional reform – particularlyfranchise reform. The face of English popular radicalism was more distinctlyworking class.2 The working classes had attempted to rise up several times in the courseof the years between the French revolution and the Peterloo massacre , eachtime being quelled with unrelenting dismissals. Unbeknownst to the greaterpublic , each time there was an attempt at calling for reform the government andits officials would grow more and more paranoid . I believe that following the Frenchrevolution and especially witnessing the execution of royalty and the terror ofthe upper classes that followed in the name of patriotism and reform was adirect threat to the British social and political order .As at Peterloo,popular radicals of the industrial north usually avoided direct symbolicallusions to the French Revolution, at least at public meetings.
In contrast,the symbolic display of London radicalism continued to exhibit more distinctlyFrench tones3.In the eyes of the upper classes the radical meetings had the possibilityof taking away their power and so many of the meetings were hyped up as thefinal straw. This attitude was aided by some of the actions taken by some officialswho had reacted in a similarly aggressive manner to protest in the year 1817when the Blankenteers march took place and some 100 men were attacked leavingthem with wounds ,when spies employed by the courts reported that violence wasthe intention of the march. This kind of misreporting and open challenge was themost important cause of the Peterloo massacre as if the government had beenmore well informed of the situation they would have realised that a popularuprising was not as highly possible as they thought. This also directlycontributed to the growing sense of panic among the magistrates as they feltthey could lose power . “Frightened by the alienation of their laborers, theManchester notables were dis posed to see bloody revolution lurking behindevery plea for reform”4.The greatest context in the massacrewas the economic situation .
Due to relentless years of war, Britain through aneconomic down turn in which the cost of British imports rose with taxes and thecost of living. Consequently, the entire price structure, upon the maintenanceof which depended agricultural income in general, rent payments, and theability of the landlords to pay their debts, was dangerously threatened. 5This forced the landlords in government to implement the very unpopularCorn laws in which the cost of food would be kept very high so that when peoplebought form them they would not be losing money because of the economy .Thiscombined with a bad harvest in 1816 made the population at large resent theirlack of representation in office and as with many attempts at revolutions peoplegrew particularly restless when they do not have all the food or money thatthey need to live .
Unemployment and high food prices fed the grievances of menwhose only refuge was the harsh, inadequate system of poor relief6 .This also helped to push people into more radical ideas of reforms as itis easier to justify and point out the lack of representation was the economicdepression of I8I9 that led the working classes, particularly the cottonweavers, to join with the Radical reformers in inviting “Orator” Huntto speak at Manchester and to stress a political program for the cure ofeconomic ills.7The political reasons for the massacreintersect with the economic ones as the people benefitting from the economicdown turn were the same ones controlling political matters . A significantreason for the Peterloo massacre was the insistence of radicals forparliamentary reform to be representative of the working public and to be ableto have the right to suffrage if you were a working man .The intensity of thesedemands depended mostly on the state of the economy as once the economy saw anuptake people were less concerned. It provoked tremendous popular agitation innorthern England for manhood suffrage; and the social unrest culminated in themassacre by regular troops of protesters at St. Peter’s Fields outsideManchester. 8 The people working in thetextiles , chiefly the spinners , weaver and cotton manufactures conflictedbecause of the bad economy and so the workers recognised that the drop in wageswas likely the result of capitalist greed at their expense and so they joined withthe radical reformers in the hopes of changing their situation.
This was a significantfactor in the Peterloo massacre as it amplified the calls for reform as more peoplewere being affected and therefore joining the growing radical meetings .The joiningof the textiles industry also helped to make the government ore paranoid as some protesters had taken to attackingand vandalising the cotton factories that they were liable to. This shared withthe demands for suffrage and stable living wages directly produced the outcomeof the meeting in St Peters field 1819.As consequence of the massacre thepublic was outraged .
As the papers had reported that the protesters had been unarmedand that there were many women and children in attendance the idea of such anabuse of power was seen as unacceptable .Although this was not the first timethat the magistrates had used excessive force it was widely seen as having gonetoo far. The government claimed through the press that the radical meetingswere not in the name of patriotism and likened it to the French revolution .Thismade it very difficult to use things like banners , badges and signs as it wasbeing associated with the French with whom the British had only been fightingless than a decade earlier .Lacking any evidence of inflammatory language thesymbols themselves became all the more important in creating circumstancescalculated to “produce terror of immediate danger in the minds of theKing’s subjects9.The goal after the massacre was to completely destroy any notion of rebellionas that brief interval forced the radicals to change many of their tactics and,at the same time, provided them with a pantheon of martyrs.
“10 The radicals were not completely dissuaded as the massacre made evidentthe extent of brutality that local magistrates, members of Parliament, and theCrown were willing to condone to suppress popular protests”11.The government continued to use the massacreto further demonise protesters and so they claimed that the intention of such abig meeting , which consisted of an estimated 60,000 people ,was to elect arepresentative to lead them in parliament which was illegal. Which thenjustified the presence of the Yeonmanry Calvary in the first place.The tactic thatthe magistrates used was to consistently highlight the quentionalbe lagaltiy ofthe meeting and then point out how unreasonable ,unpatriotic and threateningthe radical movement as whole was .Throughout the trial the prosecution drewattention to the flags and cockades, the emblems of French12,which they used to prove their argument in court .However due toconflicting accounts and the experiences with state violence before they werenot widely believed and after Peterloo, the Home Office lost patience withmagistrates who had somehow failed to note the unprecedented Artifice withwhich the Demagogues of the present day contrive without transgressing the Law,to produce on the Public Mind the same effect which used only to be created bymeans unquestionably unlawful.
13They also used the massacre to implementlaws that would dissuade the meetings. For example the Gag laws which had beenre implemented in 1818 , were more defiantly challenged by the radical press infavour of suffrage .This consequentially led to the attempt from radicals toflame the embers of rebellion ,forexample Thomas Wooler , who disregarded the gagging acts to continue to publishradical material .Peterloo, the Black Dwarf repeatedly proclaimed, was ‘ourmost glorious victory’: We rejoice at the event for it was the triumph ofcalumniated reform. It was the conquest of the slandered reformers – thevictory of temper and principle, over infuriate loyalty and authorised treason.This victory must be ever kept in memory, and its effect stimulate and guideyour future conduct.14This excerpt also shows how the radicals attempted to use the victims ofthe massacre martyrs to stir moredissent, as it enabled them to place themselves at the head of a popular andrighteous cause, to establish themselves in local politics, and to play alarger role in politics at the national level.
“15To conclude , I believe it was the growing sense of desperationfrom the government that caused the Peterloo massacre .The state was in pursuitof stability and what they considered to be serious dissent was unacceptableand needed to be dispersed immediately .The fact that instead of trying toquell public outrage after the massacre they instantly went about disbanding anyradical groups and created various lawsto forbid protesters to gather or meet in too large or threatening a group, showsus that the goal was always to discourage and force anyone who doesn’t agreewith the state of affairs to hide and therefore encourage the negative governmentpropaganda about the legality , patriotism and morality of their stance Theauthorities sought to make dissent appear suspect, to drive reformers intoconspiratorial activities, and to mobilize the judicial system as an engine ofpolitical repression16.Itis my belief that the government overreacted because of paranoia and severalactions taken by the radicals in the country and so they believed that if theylet people openly challenge them it would lead to a revolution similar to thatof France .
“Peterloo”came to represent a seminal moment in the struggle for the rights to freepublic assembly and political expression. 17I believe that the pattern of dissent and the state ignoring the demands of thepublic was responsible for the paranoia in parliament that led to the massacre.1 1 Epstein,James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and SocialConflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.
” Past & Present,no. 122 (1989): 75-1182 Epstein, James. “Understandingthe Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and Social Conflict in EarlyNineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present, no. 122(1989): 75-118. http://www.
3 Epstein,James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and SocialConflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,no. 122 (1989): 75-118.4 Leventhal,F. M. “Why a Massacre? The Responsibility for Peterloo.” TheJournal of Interdisciplinary History 2, no.
1 (1971): 109-18.doi:10.2307/202444.5 http://www.
jstor.copied Link, Arthur S. “Samuel Taylor Coleridge and theEconomic and Political Crisis in Great Britain, 1816-1820.” Journalof the History of Ideas 9, no. 3 (1948): 323-38. doi:10.
M. “Why a Massacre? The Responsibility for Peterloo.” TheJournal of Interdisciplinary History 2, no. 1 (1971): 109-18.doi:10.
2307/202444.7 Cahill,Gilbert A. The American Historical Review 64, no. 3 (1959):635 36.doi:10.
2307/1905201.8 http://www.jstor.copied Link, Arthur S. “Samuel Taylor Coleridge and theEconomic and Political Crisis in Great Britain, 1816-1820.” Journalof the History of Ideas 9, no.
3 (1948): 323-38. doi:10.2307/2707373.
org.ezproxy.brunel.ac.uk/stable/650952.9 Epstein,James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and SocialConflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,no.
122 (1989): 75-118.10 Matthews,Roy T. Victorian Periodicals Review 29, no. 4 (1996): 342-44. http://www.
jstor.org.ezproxy.brunel.ac.uk/stable/20082948. 11 Demson,Michael.
Keats-Shelley Journal 62 (2013): 148-49. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.brunel.ac.
uk/stable/24396092. 12 Epstein,James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and SocialConflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,no. 122 (1989): 75-118.
13 Belchem, J. C. “Henry Hunt and the Evolution of theMass Platform.” The English Historical Review 93, no. 369(1978): 739-73.14 Belchem,J. C. “Henry Hunt and the Evolution of the Mass Platform.
” TheEnglish Historical Review 93, no. 369 (1978): 739-73.15 Cahill,Gilbert A. The American Historical Review 64, no. 3 (1959):635 36.doi:10.2307/1905201. 16 Leventhal,F.
M. “Why a Massacre? The Responsibility for Peterloo.” TheJournal of Interdisciplinary History 2, no. 1 (1971): 109-18.doi:10.2307/202444.
17 Epstein,James. “Understanding the Cap of Liberty: Symbolic Practice and SocialConflict in Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Past & Present,no. 122 (1989): 75-118.