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crowd, marching here and there and everywhere, sometimes jambed up till the breath was almost out of my body.
William. A hard day's work, and not much profit !
William. And what is worse, you have been the cause of a good many hundred others losing their time, which some of us could not well spare. I'll tell you what, Robert, these constant Chartist meetings are beginning to make quiet people very angry. We don't like to have to turn out continually to keep the peace because you Chartists think proper to make your
as you call them. Robert. Then why do you turn out ?
William. Because it is our duty, whatever be the risk or the inconvenience. Besides if we did not take measures to keep the peace, we should stand a chance of having our houses broken into, our property destroyed or stolen, and our families illtreated.
Robert. Stuff and nonsense! The Chartists are very peaceable men; at least I can speak for myself. I am for moral force, not physical force.
William. Yes; you may speak for yourself, but there are a good many of you who hold very different language. Look here at these extracts in the paper from the speeches of some of your leaders. Mr. G. Reynolds, who I fancy is a great gun amongst you, says thus: “A few drops of blood are nothing in the scale, and if moral means should fail, the people were prepared for any means.” Mr. Murphy declares that his constituents at Huddersfield were determined to have the Charter, morally, if possible, but to have it any road.' This gentleman was loudly cheered, but the cheering was “tremendous,” when Mr. G. J. Harney informed the convention, on the authority of a letter from Sir G. Grey, that “a great many pikes were being manufactured at Nottingham.” What are pikes for, I wonder, if they do not mean to use physical force ? Look here again ; Mr. Somers said, at a meeting at Liverpool, that if any attempt should be made by the Government to put down the treasonable practices of the Irish confederates “there existed an organized conspiracy in England to burn London, Liverpool, and Manchester, and the other Babylons of England, and massacre the peaceable inhabitants.” And another speaker declares “ that if a single shot is fired in Ireland there is a party here prepared to destroy everything or anything.” This is plain speaking enough, I think.
Robert. O it is all mere talk. It does very well to rouse the people up a little. But take my word for it, the Chartists do not mean to burn towns and massacre the inhabitants or anything of the sort.
William. You do not, I dare say:
others amongst you have no such intention. But there are some, as I said before, that do. There is a gang of desperadoes and political madmen, who are resolved, if possible, to turn the country upside down, and will stick at nothing to effect their object. And you must excuse me for saying that you “moral-force men thing more than blind tools in the hands of these ambitious fools, They get you together to make a demonstration, march you about here and there till you can hardly stand on your legs, and all this in the hope of getting up a row. Look at the extract from the speech of Mr. James Leach: "He would say nothing of physical or moral force, but leave that to the chapter of accidents. The object of these men is to get you, if possible, into a collision with the police or military. Some chance shot, as at Paris, or Milan, or Berlin, will rouse you to resistance. Then when your blood is up, these men know you will fight as Englishmen can fight, and perhaps make a revolution. I think they are mistaken in their calculation. At the same time it is very possible that they may stir up such a riot as may cost hundreds of lives, and cause an enormous destruction of property.
Robert. All I can say is, that I have no intention whatever either to kill my neighbours or destroy their property; and if other people choose to fight, and if rogues and vagabonds take to pillaging houses, I am sure I cannot help it.
William. Yes, you can help it, Robert.
William. By keeping quietly at home. If it was not for these monster meetings of yours there would be no danger to life or property. And I must say that if riot takes place and blood is spilt at one of them, every one of those who set the meeting foot, or walked in the procession, is responsible for the mischief before God and his country. You must know very well, before you set out, that it is very possible there may be riot and bloodshed. It has happened in many places. It happened at Glasgow only the other day, and on the continent the most dreadful scenes have taken place in all the principal cities. Hundreds of men have been sent to their last account in the midst of strife and anger. Many innocent women and children have been killed in the tumults. "I do not see how any right-minded man can think
himself justified in being in any way accessory to such events. I cannot understand how any man knowing the possibility of bloodshed, yet getting a mob together, or forming part of one under such exciting circumstances, can escape the charge of MURDER.
Robert. Come, you are speaking rather strongly. I am sure I
should be very sorry to have anything to do with murder. My object, and that of a great many others, has been simply to make a moral demonstration in order to oblige Government to do justice to the working classes. You should have seen the stream of people that passed along the streets with us to-day. There seemed no end of them.
William. How many do you suppose there were ?
Robert. Why, I may tell you as a friend,—what I heard from very good authority, that is Mr. who is one of the managers, and knows how things really are,—that there were about six thousand regular Chartists. These all walked in the procession with flags, six abreast. Then there were the Trades' Unions, and confederated Irishmen. But in such a demonstration there are sure to be a great quantity of idlers and spectators, which makes the number look much greater than they are. Altogether there were certainly more than fifteen thousand people, and I can tell you that so many thousand people are very imposing sight, as they wind along the public streets. You can call them as many as you choose. The best plan is generally to add a nought at the end. So that our meeting to-day will figure on the paper as consisting of 150,000 Chartists, a tolerably good show of moral force.
William. And do you really think that this sort of exaggeration of numbers is honest ?
Robert. Honest ? Oh, to be sure, everything is honest in politics. Besides, it is done every day.
William. Well, all I can say is, that it appears to me a very dishonest and unworthy trick. But the fact is that you Chartists only deceive yourselves. If your object is to make such a demonstration of numbers as to intimidate or influence Government, you do not surely suppose that Government is content to take your estimate of numbers. No; an experienced military man, standing in one of the houses as the procession passes, can count the number within a hundred or two; or the same result may be come at by measuring the ground occupied by the assemblage. It is known to a fraction how many men can stand together on an acre of land. What then is the use of pretending that the numbers are ten times as great as they really are ? You only talk yourselves into a belief that you are a very numerous and important body, and perhaps deceive your friends in other parts of the country, who on the strength of having as they suppose 150,000 men to back them, when there is not the tenth part, might be induced to risk their lives in some rash attempt, and only get themselves into a scrape. Depend upon it “honesty is the best policy” in politics as well as other matters.
Robert. Well; you cannot deny that the Chartist petition
ought to have some weight. I suppose there never was such a monster petition got up since Parliaments were held.
William. So far from thinking that your monster petition has done your cause any good, I believe that the impudence and dishonesty of the whole affair has done more than almost any other circumstance to injure you. Why the thing was a cheat on the face of it. It professed to be signed by five millions six hundred thousand men, which is several hundreds of thousands more than there are in all England.
Robert. However, there were the signatures of a good many
William. Yes, and children too. As a specimen, to my certain knowledge John Smith's errand-boy signed it every time he went over London Bridge, and that was five or six times a day. Robert. He ought to have been well whipped for his pains.
William. There I quite agree with you. Then there was the Duke of Wellington's name seventeen times; Queen Victoria, Sir Robert Peel, Sir G. Grey, Pugnose, Longnose, Flatnose, Punch, besides a number of vile indecent names not fit to mention.
Robert. Did it never occur to you, my good friend, that these names must have been written by the enemies of the Chartists who wished to bring discredit on their cause, most likely some policeman or Government spy?
William. Certainly, whoever wrote them were no friends to the Chartists. But I should hardly think that Government would take the trouble to do it. No; the truth of the matter appears to be that when petitions are exposed in the street, as this was, every idle vagabond that goes by scribbles on them just what he pleases. Nine persons out of ten probably do not know or care a farthing about the matter, and write down their names, or anything else that happens to come into their heads for the fun of the thing. The long and short of it is that petitions got up in this way are of no value whatever. For my own part I think Parliament ought to require all persons who sign petitions to set down their address and occupation, so that inquiry may be made as to their identity. As it is at present, one individual may set down the names of a hundred, as appears to have been done in this instance, whole pages being evidently in the same handwriting. But I think that from the exposures made of the mode in which signatures were obtained, and the sort of signatures which were affixed, your monster petition has been shown to be such a monstrous humbug that it has turned the whole business into ridicule, and I fear has had the effect of fixing a stigma on the very practice of petitioning. So that what is in reality, when pro
perly exercised, a valuable privilege, will in future have but little weight.
Robert. However, after all deductions, you must acknowledge that a petition signed by such vast numbers of persons ought to have, and must have, a great moral effect.
William. It does not appear to me that there is any possibility of knowing what the numbers of the bona fide signatures really were. Instead of being, as it was stated by Mr. Feargus O'Connor, five millions six hundred thousand, the whole number of every sort, men, women, and children, was under two millions; and of these a large proportion are ascertained to have been 'fictitious. Perhaps scarcely a tenth part of the signatures were genuine. But take them at two millions, out of a population of about twenty millions. Then you have the fact that two millions of the population want to have the charter and eighteen millions do not-that is a majority of nine to one against it. I have no doubt that if you fairly polled the country, you would find it to be the case-that nine persons out of ten either are opposed to the Charter, or else know and care nothing about it. The whole affair is got up by some busy persons in the great towns, who like to be notorious, and find it easier to distinguish themselves by political agitation, than by more honest means. But with all their agitation, they are as far from attaining their object as ever. Why should the constitution of the country be altered, when not one person in ten desires it. I must say that I think your appeal to moral force is equally a failure with your appeal to physical force. To endeavour to carry the charter by the help of pikes and rifles, would be a wicked and murderous attempt, besides the certainty of its being unsuccessful. Your appeal to moral force shows only that the large majority of the people are against you, so that you have nothing left but to appeal to reason and argument. If you, or your leading men, can prove to the country that the Charter would be an advantage, and a remedy for the evils which surround us, I have no doubt you will succeed, but not otherwise.
Robert. Well come, if you will listen to argument, I think I may count on bringing you over to my side.
William. Let me hear some of your arguments.
Robert.* “We hold it to be an axiom in politics that selfgovernment by representation is the only just foundation of
* These extracts are taken from the introduction to the "People's Charter," perfect edition, price one penny-being the outline of an act to provide for the just representation of the people of Great Britain and Ireland, in the Commons' House of Parliament, embracing the principles of universal suffrage, no property qualification, annual Parliaments, equal representation, payment of members, and vote by ballot.