English History: The Chartists
Source: The Peel Web.
Radicalism was part of the lives of working men in Barnsley, a town in south Yorkshire. Chartism was popular in this area of England. This manifesto was published in an attempt to encourage people to press for the Charter.
To the Working People of Barnsley:
The Committee appointed to carry into effect the resolutions which were unanimously and triumphantly passed at a very large public meeting held in Barnsley on the 10th of June, 1838, have thought it advisable to address the following observations to the labouring people of Barnsley and its neighbourhood, for the information of those who were not at the meeting:
Fellow workmen, - We need not tell you that your condition in life has gradually deteriorated or grown worse, year by year, as sure as time has passed on, almost ever since the memory of the present generation: we need not tell you that, with all your labour, frugality, and industry, you are unable to procure even the necessaries of life, much less those comforts which every industrious man and his family ought to enjoy. These things you know by sad experience; and you know also, that while you, with all your toil, cannot procure the necessaries of life, one portion of society are enjoying all the good things that this world can produce, and that portion of society which are enjoying all the good things are they who produce nothing and, if left to themselves, they would be the most pitiable objects that ever existed; and this state of things will continue, and the condition of the working people will grow worse and worse, as sure as cause produces effect, until labour has no other reward than a bare animal subsistence (and in many cases not that}, unless the working people themselves remove the cause. To prove to you that this must and will be the case, so long as the present state of things continue, we invite your special attention to the following simple comparison between the reward of labour and the reckless and wanton extravagance of those who never work, but who live upon our labour. We will mention one case out of many hundreds: it is that of a poor widow [Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV] who could not keep herself, and on whom our law-makers have settled a pension of one hundred thousand pounds a year. It is said that we can only conceive the largeness or smallness of anything by comparing it to some other thing which is larger or smaller; and as this woman's pension has to be paid by the working-people, let us just see how long an able-bodied man would have to work to earn as much money as would pay her one year's salary. A weaver would have to weave twelve yards of good substantial linen a day for six thousand five hundred and seventy- five years to earn as much money as she receives in one year; and an agricultural labourer would have had to commence working when the world began, and worked to the present time, at the wages that many of them are receiving to have earned as much money as would pay her one year's pension: or, in other words, it would take four thousand men, and those four thousand men, with the assistance of animal power, must cultivate two hundred thousand acres of land, or two thousand farms of one hundred acres each, to earn as much money as our law-makers give annually to this one woman, who is a foreigner, and who never did a penny's worth of good for England in her life. But this is not all that preys upon the people's mind; they cannot efface from their recollection that it was the husband of this woman who signed that inhuman Bill, the design of which is, if the widow of a poor man cannot provide for herself and children, she must be sent to a prison, separated from her children and all that is dear to her in life, and kept on prison's fare! and these are the tender mercies which the working people will ever receive from their rulers, until they have a voice in sending Members to Parliament. We are happy to inform you that the people of Birmingham, who were the main instruments in carrying the Reform Bill, are fully satisfied that the miscalled Reform Bill will never end the condition of the working people, but that their condition has been made a great deal worse since it passed, and they are quite convinced that nothing short of universal suffrage will ever secure to the people those wages for their labour which will support their families in comfort and respectability. Therefore, they have set about in right good earnest to prosecute those plans, which will, if they are assisted by the people, most assuredly obtain a great Charter, namely, the right to vote for Members of Parliament; then will the working man enjoy the fruits of his own industry and become a respectable member of Society, and never till then. It has long been our opinion that whenever the rival strength of the whole working people should be brought to bear on this one point, they must and would gain their object and to do this is the design of the people of Birmingham. They have drawn up a petition demanding universal suffrage, annual parliaments and vote by ballot; and in order to induce Parliament to concede the demands of the petition they desire that it may be a national one, signed, if possible, by every working man in the nation; and for this purpose the people of Birmingham have sent a deputation through England and Scotland to see if the people will assist them to obtain our natural rights; and upwards of one million men have declared that they will, to the utmost of their power, assist them in their patriotic enterprise, and that they will never cease their demands until they have obtained their rights. Now, will the people of Barnsley and its neighbourhood refuse to come forward and lend a helping hand to raise themselves from their present degraded situation? No we hope not. We believe they have had enough of poverty and suffering, and we also think that experience has taught them, that if they were to produce ten times as much by their labour as they now produce, it would be no better for them, but worse, for more wealth the people produce, the more oppressors they create. It is quite erroneous for the people to think that by their increased labour and toil, they can maintain that respectability in society which it is the ambition of every honest and industrious person to maintain, while things remain in their present state; for it is the design of our law-makers that the working men shall only have a bare subsistence for his labour, let him produce ever so much. The present system of government works precisely as explained in the following simple exposition: Suppose twenty men produce wealth to the extent of twenty pounds a week, and suppose four other men had been imposed on them to persuaded, that they (the four men) had a right to make laws by which the twenty men should be governed. Well, the four men proceed to make laws, and the first law that they make is that the twenty pounds' worth of wealth which the twenty men produce shall be divided and the twenty men shall have one-half for producing the whole and the other half must be given to the four for making laws and governing the twenty men. Well, things go on pretty smoothly under this law for a while, but by-and-by the extravagance of the four law-makers is so great that their income will not meet their expenditure; so they call their legislative abilities into exercise and devise plans to increase their incomes; they know well where to begin, for they know that there is no wealth but what the working class create. So in order to make a successful attack upon that share of wealth which their own law allowed to the twenty men, one of them makes a great banquet, and invites his brother-law-makers to it.
Fellow workmen, - We wish to impress it deeply on your minds, that attacks on our liberty and industry are never first made in open Parliament, but at the sumptuous revellings of the law-makers when their appetites are satiated with all the luxuries, that can be produced by earth and air and sea. and their hearts cheered with wine; then do they cowardly devise schemes to deprive labour of the comforts of his humble fare. Just give us your attention, while we expose the deliberations of those four law-makers at the above banquet, whose conduct is a true simile of the conduct of our present law-makers at their great entertainments. We will do it in as few words as possible, and endeavour to be so plain that the humblest reader will see into the workings of the machinery of government. When the four law-makers had eaten to their full, the first rose to propound his scheme to extricate themselves from those embarrassments into which their extravagance had brought them; he said, 'Gentlemen - I need not tell you that there is no wealth or riches but what is produced by the working classes; you know that well and that there is no source which we can have recourse to, to obtain supplies to meet our increased demands, and maintain our dignity, but the production of the working classes; therefore, I suggest that we pass a law that the labourers shall only have one third of their produce, instead of one half, which they have hitherto had, and that we have two thirds, and I think it will be as much as it wise to take from them at one time, but I only submit this to you as my opinion; perhaps some of my worthy and learned friends may hit upon a better scheme.' He then sat down and the second rose and said, 'My Lords, and Gentlemen; I quite agree with the law suggested by my right honourable friend, but I must acknowledge that I have great apprehension of the consequence, that may probably result from taking so large a portion of the comforts of the people from them at one time, and in so direct a manner; I would, therefore, suggest that instead of taking one third of what they now enjoy we should take one sixth, and make them produce one sixth more, and by adding one sixth more to their labour, they will not have so much time to look after what we are doing, for we must keep the people from thinking as much as possible; having made these remarks I will sit down and give my other friends an opportunity of stating their view, for in the multitude of councellors there is wisdom'. The third then rose and said, 'I was very much delighted with the ideas of the preceding speaker, but I think his plan may be carried further out, and made more imperceptible to the people. I will illustrate my meaning in this simple way. I conceive that to take one sixth of the food which the men have allowed them at present, in one lump, would be like taking one dinner, from them, out of six, and leaving them without dinner on the sixth day; and when we take into consideration, that they have one sixth more labour to perform, and if it should so happen that they had a double share of work to do on the sixth day, and no dinner, it might lead them to serious reflections; now I would propose that we take one sixth from every dinner, and let them have six dinners, that is a dinner every day, but one sixth less food to it than usual, and by doing so they will scarcely know their loss.' He then sat down, and the fourth rose and said, 'Gentlemen, I am quite enamoured with the result of this night's deliberation; the deep thought and fine calculations which the different speakers have displayed this night fully prove, if proof were wanting, that we are master-hands at legislation, and fully competent to grapple with any difficulty that may arise in governing this great nation; only observe, how every succeeding speaker has enlarged and improved on the ideas of the preceding speaker, and I am persuaded that when I have explained to you my ideas, which are only an improvement of the ideas that you have suggested, we shall have nothing to do but congratulate each other in having accomplished our object, in such an imperceptible way that will prevent us from ever being detected. I would remind you, gentlemen, that the labourers have breakfasts and drinkings and suppers, and clothing, as well as dinners, and I propose that there be taken from them a part of every article of food and every article of clothing which they consume, and by taking a little from everything, they will never perceive that they have any less; and in order to convince you that this will be the case, I have only to remind you that the people are ignorant, that they cannot calculate so fine as we can; my plan is like taking one-sixth from a penny, which is a fraction, and I am sure the people are so ignorant they cannot reckon to fractions.' Here all the four rose from their seats, clapped their hands, and shouted as if they had gained a great victory; and after shouting and congratulating each other for their profound wisdom in having so nicely imposed on the people, they sat down, saturated their stomachs with wine, and then retired to rest. Fellow workmen, the above simple report of the supposed four law-makers is no vain imagination, but it is a true picture of the purport of all the counsels of our present law-makers; they watch over your powers of production with an eagle's eye, and if they observe you can possibly earn one penny more than will barely keep you alive, they never cease scheming till they have gotten it from you; therefore, if God were by a miraculous exercise of His almighty power, to create another island, equal in size and fertility to England, and join it to England, His benevolence would not benefit the people, for our law-makers would instantly seize it, divide it among themselves, make the people cultivate it, and give them (the lawmakers) the produce.
At this present time, while the people are starving for food, the granaries are filled with corn, and the Government will not let the famishing poor have a morsel of it; the owners of the corn have petitioned Parliament to let them grind it into flour, and send it into foreign countries to feed foreigners. The starving poor of this country have begged and prayed time after time that the law-makers would allow them to have the food which is over and above what they (the law-makers) can possibly consume, and which may be very properly designated the crumbs that fall from their tables; but the law-makers have invariably declared by their treatment of the prayers of the people, that, before they who produce all the food or corn, shall have what there is to spare after they and their children, and cattle, and hunting dogs, and wild beasts, and fancy birds. and every other animal that they keep for their profit or pleasure, have been well fed, the surplus food shall rot in their granaries, and be thrown on the dunghill for muck. Oh! ye poor degraded, despised, and insulted people, have you never enquired, and will you never enquire, who gave your callous-hearted law-makers the power thus to oppress you? Their power lies in your sufferance; you allow them to do so; and this is all the power they have; and will you continue to allow them to do so? Have you no love or feeling for yourselves? If you have none for yourselves, let me place before you your pined, naked, ignorant, and despised children. Can you think on the degradation that awaits them without being cut to the very heart?
Oh! fellow workmen, have you ever felt those glowing pleasures that rise in a parent's mind at seeing his little child neatly attired, with its basket in its hand, and with a cheerful gait, repairing to a place of instruction, where its little mind would be expanded and stored with profitable learning? Did you ever feel that holy pride, that parental tenderness, that inward adoring of God for having made you a father, which arises in a father's breast at hearing his little boy read the Scriptures, or any other pleasing book to his listening little brothers and sisters? We ask, have you ever felt the pleasure that such a scene, and such soul-inspiring accents are calculated to raise in a parent's mind? If you have, can you ever after allow the idea to enter your minds that others of your children and those of your friends and kindred are doomed through poverty to be brought up like the wild ass's colt, and as ignorant as the Indian's brood, and to become the dupes and slaves and victims of their oppressors, who go prowling about like a wolf after its prey to rob your daughters of their virtue and chastity? And to do this they impose on your ignorance, and tempt their poverty by bribes; and when they have gratified their lusts, which are as insatiable as their selfishness, they leave their victims to their fate with all the indifference of an infernal spirit. Oh! our feelings recoil at these ideas; they are like the assassin's dagger entering our hearts. and before we would submit to this fate, and have every principle of our nature outraged by the insatiable selfishness of a few mortal men, if we had the power, and we speak it with the greatest reverence to our God, we would raze the earth to its foundations, and scatter the huge fabric into its original chaos.
What avails the picturesque landscape, the pleasant scenery, the melodious grove, the yellow crops, the teeming harvest, the general shout when the fruits of the earth are safety gathered; I ask, what avail all these to the people, when prison walls and prison's fare are all that greedy wealth can spare for them? Need we, fellow workmen, say anything more to induce you spontaneously, with one heart and one soul, with the shouts of ten thousand times ten thousand voices, to determine that these things shall continue no longer. If these be your feelings, come and sign the national petition, and join your fellow sufferers in demanding that all who have to obey the laws shall have a voice in making the laws through their representatives. Do not think that you are too poor, too despised and too destitute of influence to be of any service to this great cause, you are the very people that can do this great work. There are gentlemen of great wealth, great knowledge, and great influence, who will lead the van, and venture their lives to gain this great victory; but they can never do it, except the people generally assist them. Will you, men of Barnsley and its neighbourhood, assist them? He who is not for us is against us; and he who remains neutral in this crisis does no more to jeopardise this great cause, than the people's worst enemy can do. We could go up at once, and wrest our liberties out of the hands of our oppressors, if they must stand on their own ground; but. O! this fatal, this fatal, this fatal neutral ground! - We cannot, we cannot, we cannot conquer on this accursed neutral ground, namely, the supineness of the people. That man who will not assist to remove that incalculable weight of human misery, which distracts this unfortunate nation, except it is through the grossest ignorance, is a coward to himself, a murderer to his children, a traitor to his country, and a despiser to his God.
We ground our claims on the laws of God, the laws of nature, the dictates of conscience, of reason, of justice, of charity, of benevolence, and brotherly love; we ask nothing for ourselves which we would not concede to others; our desire is to diffuse peace on earth and good will towards man, and this can never be done until that injunction of our Lord's is inculcated, enforced, and generally practised, 'do ye unto others as ye would others should do unto you'. We think we see the timid apprehensions of the poor pious and sincere Christians, tanned into a flame by the insinuations of his mistaken or wicked Spiritual Adviser, that the Radicals are laying the axe to the root of all his Christian privileges, and consequently to all the comforts that flow from those privileges. The poles are not more opposite than our desires are, to those insinuations. We maintain that religious toleration should be as free as the air we breathe; and that, that beautiful picture of liberty contained in the scriptures, be enforced to the very letter, that every man should be allowed to worship his God under his own vine and fig tree, none daring to make him afraid; that the state should render ample protection to every man in his conscientious devotions to his God, whether he be Protestant, Catholic, Jew or Gentile; and that that man who dares to be so impiously wicked, as to assault or oppress another for his religious opinions, should be branded as one of the worst characters in society, and brought to condign punishment.
But dost thou think, O Christian! that it requires the great, the noble, and the learned, with all the eloquence of oratory and wisdom of words; dost thou think that it requires all the pomp, parade, and pageantry of state, and din of war to make the universal love of God acceptable to man; look in thy Bible and see if it is so. No they are like ten thousand anchors, holding the majestic ark of God's eternal benevolence. Sever the anchor and let it float on the sea of its own intrinsic worth, and it will shine like the lamp that burneth, and go forth in all the majesty of conquering love, and spread and never cease until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of God end his Christ. Amen, and Amen.
These are the Radical principles and Radical opinions; do not hastily condemn them; read your Bibles, and ponder them in your minds before you come to your decisions.
George Uttey, Chairman
lsaac Lister, Treasurer
William Coates, Secretary