Karl Marx in the New York Tribune 1853

Parliamentary Debates — The Clergy and the Struggle for the Ten-Hour Day — Starvation

Source: Marx Engels On Britain, Progress Publishers 1953;
Written: by Marx, February 25, 1853;
First Published: in the New York Daily Tribune of March 15, 1853;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

London, February 25, 1853

The Parliamentary debates of the week offer but little of interest. On the 22nd inst. Mr. Spooner moved, in the House of Commons, the repeal of the money grants for the Catholic College at Maynooth, and Mr. Scholefield proposed the amendment “to repeal all enactments now in force, whereby the revenue of the State is charged in aid of any ecclesiastical or religious purpose whatever.” Mr. Spooner’s motion was lost by 162 to 192 votes. Mr. Scholefield’s amendment will not come under discussion before Wednesday next; it is, however, not improbable that the amendment will be withdrawn altogether. The only remarkable passage in the Maynooth debate is an observation that fell from Mr. Duffy (Irish Brigade[1]): “He did not think it wholly impossible that the President of the United States or the new Emperor of the French, might be glad to renew the relations between those countries and the Irish Priesthood.”

In the session of last night Lord John Russell brought before the House of Commons his motion for the “removal of some disabilities of Her Majesty’s Jewish subjects.” The motion was carried by a majority of 29. Thus the question is again settled in the House of Commons, but there is no doubt that it will be once more unsettled in the House of Lords.

The exclusion of Jews from the House of Commons,: after the spirit of usury has so long presided. in the British Parliament, is unquestionably an absurd anomaly, the more so as they have already become eligible to all the civil offices of the community. But it remains no less characteristic for the man and for his times, that instead of a Reform Bill which was promised to remove the disabilities of the mass of the English people, a bill. is brought in by Finality John[2] for the exclusive removal of the disabilities of Baron Lionel de Rothschild. How utterly insignificant an interest is taken in this affair by the public at large, may be inferred from the fact that from not a single place in Great Britain a petition in favor of the admission of Jews has been forwarded to Parliament. The whole secret of this miserable reform farce was betrayed by the speech. of the present Sir Robert Peel.

“After all, the House were only considering the noble Lord’s private affairs. [Loud cheers.] The noble Lord represented, London with a Jew, [cheers] and had made the pledge to bring forward annually a motion in favor of the Jews. [Hear!] No doubt Baron Rothschild was a very wealthy man, but this did not entitle him to any consideration, especially considering how his wealth had been amassed. [Loud cries of “hear, hear,” and “Oh! Oh!” from the Ministerial benches.] Only yesterday he had read in the papers that the House of Rothschild had consented to grant a loan to Greece, on considerable guarantees, at 9-00. [Hear!] No wonder, at this rate, that the house of Rothschild were wealthy. [Hear.] The President of the Board of Trade had been talking of gagging the Press. Why, no one had done so much to depress freedom in Europe as the house of Rothschild [Hear, hear!] by the loans with which they assisted the despotic powers. But even supposing the Baron to be as worthy a man as he was certainly rich, it was to have been expected that the noble Lord who represented in that House a government consisting of the leaders of all the political factions who had opposed the late Administration, would have proposed some measure of more importance than the present.”

The proceedings on election-petitions have commenced. The elections for Canterbury and Lancaster have been declared null and void, under circumstances which proved the habitual venality on the part of a certain class of electors, but it is pretty sure that the majority of cases will be adjusted by way of compromise.

“The privileged classes,” says the Daily News, “who have successfully contributed to baffle the intentions of the Reform Bill and to recover their ascendency in the existing representation, are naturally alarmed at the idea of full and complete exposure.”

On the 21st inst., Lord John Russell resigned the seals of the Foreign Office, and Lord Clarendon was sworn in as his successor. Lord John is the first Member of the House of Commons admitted to a seat in the Cabinet without any official appointment. He is now only a favorite adviser, without a place — and without salary. Notice, however, has already been given by Mr. Kelly of a proposition to remedy the latter inconvenience of poor Johnny’s situation. The Secretaryship of Foreign Affairs is at the present juncture the more important, as the Germanic Diet has bestirred itself to ask the removal of all political refugees from Great Britain, as the Austrians propose to pack us all up and transport us to some barren island in the South Pacific.

Allusion has been made, in a former letter, to the probability of the Irish Tenant Right agitation becoming, in time, an anticlerical movement, notwithstanding the views and intentions of its actual leaders. I alleged the fact, that the higher Clergy was already beginning to take a hostile attitude with regard to the League.[3] Another force has since stepped into the field which presses the movement in the same direction. The landlords of the north of Ireland endeavor to persuade their tenantry that the Tenant League and the Catholic Defense Association[4] are identical, and they labor to get up an opposition to the former under the pretense of resisting the progress of Popery.

While we thus see the Irish landlords appealing to their tenants against the Catholic clergy we behold on the other hand the English Protestant clergy appealing to the working classes against the mill-lords. The industrial proletariat of England has renewed with double vigor its old campaign for the Ten-Hours’ Bill and against the truck and shoppage system. As the demands of this kind shall be brought before the House of Commons, to which numerous petitions on the subject have already been presented, there will be an opportunity for me to dwell in a future letter on the cruel and infamous practices of the factory-despots, who are in the habit of making the press and the tribune resound with their liberal rhetorics. For the present it may suffice to recall to memory that from 1802 there has been a continual strife on the part of the English working people for legislative interference with the duration of factory labor, until in 1847 the celebrated Ten-Hours Act of John Fielden was passed, whereby young persons and females were prohibited to work in any factory longer than ten hours a day. The liberal mill-lords speedily found out that under this act factories might be worked by shifts and relays. In 1849 an action of law was brought before the Court of Exchequer, and the Judge decided, that to work the relay or shift-system, with two sets of children, the adults working the whole space of time during which the machinery was running, was legal. It therefore became necessary to go to Parliament again, and in 1850 the relay and shift-system was condemned there, but the Ten-Hours Act was transformed into a Ten and a Half Hours Act. Now, at this moment, the working classes demand a restitution in integrum of the original Ten-Hours’ Bill; yet, in order to make it efficient, they add the demand of a restriction of the moving power of machinery.

Such is, in short, the exoteric history of the Ten-Hours Act. Its secret history was as follows: The landed aristocracy having suffered a defeat from the bourgeoisie by the passing of the Reform Bill of 1831, and being assailed in “their most sacred interests” by the cry of the manufacturers for Free Trade and the abolition of the Corn Laws, resolved to resist the middle-class by espousing the cause and claims of the working-men against their masters, and especially by rallying around their demands for the limitation of factory labor. So called philanthropic Lords were then at the head of all Ten-Hours meetings. Lord Ashley has even made a sort of “renommée” by his performances in this movement. The landed aristocracy having received a deadly blow by the actual abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846, took their vengeance by forcing the Ten-Hours Bill of 1847 upon Parliament. But the industrial bourgeoisie recovered by judiciary authority, what they had lost by Parliamentary legislation. In 1850, the wrath of the Landlords had gradually subsided, and they made a compromise with the Mill-lords, condemning the shift-system, but imposing, at the same time, as a penalty for the enforcement of the law, half an hour extra work per diem on the working classes. At the present juncture, however, as they feel the approach of their final struggle with the men of the Manchester School, they are again trying to get hold of the short-time movement; but, not daring to come forward themselves, they endeavor to undermine the Cotton-lords by directing the popular force against them through the medium of the State Church Clergymen. In what rude manner these holy men have taken the anti-industrial crusade into their hands, may be seen from the following few instances. At, Crampton a Ten-Hours meeting was held, the Rev. Dr. Brammell [of the State Church], in the chair. At this meeting, Rev. J. R. Stephens, Incumbent of Stalybridge, said:

“There had been ages in the world when the nations were governed by Theocracy.... That state of things is now no more.... Still the spirit of law was the same.... The laboring man should, first of all, be partaker of the fruits of the earth, which he was the means of producing. The factory-law was so unblushingly violated that the Chief Inspector of that part of the factory district, Mr. Leonard Horner, had found himself necessitated to write to the Home Secretary, to say that he dared not, and would not send any of his Sub-Inspectors into certain districts until he had police protection.... And protection against whom? Against the factory-masters! Against the richest men in the district, against the most influential men in the district, against the magistrates of the district, against the men who hold her Majesty’s Commission, against the men who sat in the Petty Sessions as the Representatives of Royalty .... And did the masters suffer for their violation of the law? .... In his own district, it was a settled custom of the male, and to a great extent of the female workers in factories , to be in bed till 9, 10 or 11 o'clock on Sunday, because they were tired out by the labor of the week. Sunday was the only day on which they could rest their wearied frames.... It would generally be found that, the longer the time of work, the smaller the wages.... He would rather be a slave in South Carolina, than a factory operative in England.

At the great Ten Hours meeting, at Burnley, Rev. E. A. Verity, incumbent of Habbergham Eaves, told his audience among other things:

“Where was Mr. Cobden, where was Mr. Bright, where were the other members of the Manchester School, when the people of Lancashire were oppressed? .... What was the end of the rich man’s thinking? .... Why, he was scheming how he could defraud the working classes out of an hour or two. That was the scheming of what he called the Manchester School. That made them such cunning hypocrites, and such crafty rascals. As a minister of the Church of England, he protested against such work.”

The motive, that has so suddenly metamorphosed the gentlemen of the Established Church, into as many knight-errant of labor’s rights, and so fervent knights too, has already been pointed out. They are not only laying in a stock of popularity for the rainy days of approaching democracy, they are not only conscious, that the Established Church is essentially art aristocratic institution, which must either stand or fall with the landed Oligarchy — there is something more. The men of the Manchester School are Anti-State Church men, they are Dissenters, they are, above all, so highly enamored of the £13,000,000 annually abstracted from their pockets by the State Church in England and Wales alone, that they are resolved to bring about a separation between those profane millions and the holy orders, the better to qualify the latter for heaven. The reverend gentlemen, therefore, are struggling pro aris et focis.[5] The men of the Manchester School, however, may infer from this diversion, that they will be unable to abstract the political power from the hands of the Aristocracy, unless they consent, with whatever reluctance, to give the people also their full share in it.

On the Continent, hanging, shooting and transportation is the order of the day. But the executioners are themselves tangible and hangable beings, and their deeds are recorded in the conscience of the whole civilized world. At the same time there acts in England an invisible, intangible and silent despot. condemning individuals, in extreme cases, to the most cruel of deaths, and driving in its noiseless, every day working, whole races and whole classes of men from the soil of their forefathers, like the angel with the fiery sword who drove Adam from Paradise. In the latter form the work of the unseen social despot calls itself forced emigration, in the former it is called starvation.

Some further cases of starvation have occurred in London during the present month. I remember only that of Mary Ann Sandry, aged 43 years, who died in Coal-lane, Shadwell, London. Mr. Thomas Peene, the surgeon, assisting the Coroner’s inquest, said the deceased died from starvation and exposure to the cold. The deceased was lying on a small heap of straw, without the slightest covering. The room was completely destitute of furniture, firing and food. Five young children were sitting on the bare flooring, crying from hunger and cold by the side of the mother’s dead body.

On the working of “forced emigration” in my next.


1. Irish Brigade: The group of Irishmen in the British Parliament.

2. Finality John: This ironical nickname was given to John Russell after he had declared that the Reform of 1832 was the final point of constitutional development in England.

3. The Tenant Right League was founded in 1850 by a group of Irish Liberals. Its programme kept within the scope of moderate bourgeois reforms of the Irish agrarian system. Nevertheless, it evoked sharp opposition on the part of the higher Irish Catholic clergy and the landlords.

4. The Catholic Defence Association was established in Ireland in 1823 by Daniel O'Connell, leader of the Irish Liberals, in close co-operation with the Irish Catholic clergy. Making demagogic use of the popular demand to abolish the political disabilities of the Catholics, O'Connell led the Irish national movement to a series of compromises with the English ruling clique.

5. Pro aris et focis: For their altars and firesides, i. e., for all that is sacred to them.