Source: Selections from the papers of the London Corresponding Society, 1792-1799, Edited by Mary Thale.
I proposed that we should have a meeting next Monday night at a public house the sign of the Bell in Exeter St. strand. It was agree to, and each of us was to invite as many of our acquaintance as we thought would agree to the measure. Mr. Boyd the Landlord with whom I was acquainted, and who I knew was a friend to freedom was quite agreeable that a society for a reform of parliament should meet at his house, .. previous to this first meeting I had prepared and ruled a book for the purpose of every man putting down his name if he app roved of the measure. I had prepared tickets also written upon them London Corresponding Society No. 1.2.3. A great deal of conversation was about giving a name to the society, whether the patriotic club – The reformation society – constitutional society. As it was difficult to decide which to adopt, I showed them the book and the Tickets, which I had prepared, with London Corresponding Society written upon them – That name was immediately adopted, as more appropriate to the object of the Society, which was to correspond with individuals, and societies of men who wished for a reformation, and to collect the opinion and sense of the nation as far as possible by that means. I took the idea from that admirable letter of the Duke of Richmond to Coll. Sharman Chairman of the Committee of Correspondence at Lisborn in Ireland.
This [first] meeting of the society took place on the evening of the 25th Jan. 1792. After the business of the day was ended they retired as was customary for tradesmen to do to a public house and after supper conversation followed, condoling with each other on the miserable and wretched state the people were reduced to, merely as we believed, from the want of a fair, and equal representation in the commons house of parliament – We considered what was best to be done to remedy this evil, I had copied several extracts from different Authors respecting a reform of parliament which was read to tie company present – And a short state of the representation as given in a table at the end of an excellent Book written by Major Cartwright, intitled Give us our Rights. They were astonished at such a state of Mock representation.... which determined them instantly to commence operation, upon the plan that was just read to them, and which they cordially approved of as an excellent foundation whereon to rear a goodly edefice. I then presented the book to them, which was previously prepared, and requested them to subscribe their names, some were for defering it until the next meeting, but I endeavoured to show the propriety of their immediate subscribing their names, and making a small deposit, which 1 considered would give them an interest in promoting, the success of the society. Having got eight to put their names down and to pay one penny each, the first meeting night then I gave each one a ticket with his name written upon the back of it. The next thing which they considered was to choose from among themselves some trusty servants to conduct the business of that friendly and well meaning company. They appointed me Treasurer and Secretary. There they stumbled at the threshold. Two very important offices filled by one person. The amount of cash in the Treasurers had the first meeting was Eight Pence. Although we were at first but few in number and humble in situation and circumstances, yet we wished to take into our consideration how to remedy the many defects and abuses which had crept into the administration of government. And in our enquiries we soon discovered that gross ignorance and prejudice of the bulk of the nation was the greatest obstacle to the obtaining redress.
Therefore our aim was to have a well regulated orderly society formed for the purpose of dispelling that ignorance and prejudice as far as possible, and instill into their minds by means of the press a sense of their rights as freemen, and of their duty to themselves, and their posterity, as good citizens, and heridatory guardians of the liberties transmitted to them by their forefathers. on the Monday following, which was the first of Feb: there were eight more added to our number, and encreased the funds of the society to two shillings. The Third meeting nine more were added, which made the number of the society amount to twenty five and the sum in the treasury, four shillings and one penny. a mighty sum!
On the second night of meeting there was a Chairman appointed for the third meeting – when the following questions were proposed for discussion viz.
First : Is there any necessity for a reformation of the present State of the Representation in the British House of Commons?
Second: Would there be any Utility in a parliamentary reform? – or in other words – Are there any just grounds to believe that a reformation in parliament will be of any essential service to the Nation?
Third : Have we who are Treadsmen – Shopkeepers and mechanicks any right to seek to obtain a parliamentary reform?
The above questions were debated in the society for five nights successively, – in all points of view that we were capable of handling the subject – and after due deliberation, and discussion, they were all decided in the affirmative.
It is necessary that I should here take notice of the first Letter that I had written to Sheffield respecting the society ...
When I recieved the answer to the foregoing Letter I then read the copy of the Letter with the Answer, and the packet of papers which I recieved at the same time – not as an official Letter from the Society – but as a private one – it was written in haste without consulting one individual about it. There were at that time in the room I think about 50 persons. They were very much pleased with the Answer and the printed Addresses which accompanyed it – it animated them with additional ardor when they were informed that others in a distant part of the nation had thought – and had also begun to act in the same way with themselves – The communication being quite unexpected – they had not before heard that any such Society existed at Sheffield, at that time – nor that any Letter had been written to them – The Society being so well satisfied of course I recieved their unanimous thanks for opening so important a correspondence. – A Committee of six was that night appointed to revise alter or amend the laws and regulations – and to prepare something to be published as an Address to the Nation – The outlines of two or three excellent Addresses were presented by different members of the Committee but not approved of by the Society. The same committee however obtained leave of another week to prepare one – About this time Mr. Maurice Margarot became a member of the Society – he was added to the Committee that night. A short address with some resolutions were drawn up by him and after some little alteration they were agreed to by the Society and ordered to be printed – Who should put the Bell about the cats neck?” Who was to Sign this address became the next question? some objected because they were serving Masters who might perhaps discharge them from their employment – others that if their names appeared to any Address and resolutions of any society for a reform of parliament, they might lose their Customers Margarot was asked to sign them – he objected also for this reason, that he at that time had connections with some Merchants in the City (Thullisons and others) closely connected with the Administration he was in expectation at that time of some employment from some of them – by taking a conspicuous part in the Society it might be injurious to him in his prospects if it were known that he belonged to any society of that kind.
Although he assured us that he should promote the object which the Society had in View to the utmost of his power, as a private Member, but he could not by any means suffer his name to appear – at least for that time – As it was necessary to have a name to the Address that it might appear genuine – it was next proposed to me to sign it – the only objection that I could possibly have was – that being an obscure individual – my name could add no consequence to it – but I being the most independant in the Society at that time having nothing to hope nor fear from any party or class of Men whatever – I readily agreed – ... My name appeared singly to the first address and resolutions on the 2d. of April 1792.
A copy of the Address and resolutions were ordered to be sent to the London Constitutional Society which they afterwards printed in the newspapers – After that time the London Corresponding Society became public – Likewise a copy was ordered to be sent to the Constitutional Society of Manchester and Sheffield who wore also by this time known to the public – In return we recieved their addresses and rules and regulations &c ....
Several thousands of the first printed Address and resolutions were distributed gratis throughout the Nation which we were enabled to do (and which in fact was the original design of the first promoters of the Society) from the fund raised by the penny a week from each member – As our plan was Universal Suffrage and annual parliaments, The Society admitted journeymen tradesmen of all denominations into it – A class of Men who deserve better treatment than they generaly meet with from those who are fed, and cloathed, and inriched by thier labour, industry, or ingenuity.
Many of that description of Men are unmarried, and whose practice is to go to a public house from their workshops after the labour of the day, to have their supper, and then regale themselves with a pint or pot of Beer, and srnoak thier pipes, and convers about the news of the day – the hardness of the times the dearness of Provisions, and of every necessary and comfort in life & c. which directs thier conversation a little farther by inquiring into the cause of all those calamities of which they complain – ... By admitting all upon the principle of universal suffrage, the society increased rapidly – . ...
When L. Daer became a member some one proposed that he should be chairman next meeting night it seemed to be the wish of many present – I objected to him being chairman upon this ground that it would still appear to be a party business and might prevent the people exerting themselves in their own cause and depend implicitly (as formerly) upon the mere ipse dixit of some NobleMan or great Man without the least trouble of examining for themselves – none were better pleased than I was on his becoming a member – nor none esteemed him more highly....
We were so scrupulous about the admission of any of those of the higher ranks that when any of them offered to pay more than we usually demanded on the admission of a new member We would not recieve it but told them that we had money sufficient for all necessary purposes Viz for printing, postage of Letters, and stationary – ... – Every three Months new Officers were elected by ballot or the old ones rechosen if they found it convenient There was a uniform rule by which all Members were admitted high and low rich and poor – After the three following questions were proposed to them and answered in the Affirmative thier names and residences were entered into a book kept for that purpose (but not their titles) each member had a ticket given to him with a copy of the rules and orders and the Addresses of the Society
Question first. Are you convinced that the parliamentary Representation of this Country is at present inadequit and imperfect?
Question 2d. Are you thoureoughly perswaded that the welfare of these kingdoms requires that every person of Adult years in possession of his reason and not incapacitated by crimes should have a vote for a Member of parliament?
Question 3d. Will you endeavour by all justifiable means to promote such reformation in parliament.
By this time we wore under the necessity of haveing printed tickets – for the members multiplied so fast that the business of the society was retarded by writing the tickets – printed tickets were talked of for several weeks before they were ordered to be printed what is every bodys business is no bodys business (an old proverb) – At last I gave the form of a ticket into the committee for their approbation with this Motto “Unite, persevere, and be free'’ I remember Margarot objecting to that Motto at first as liable to be construed to our injury – however the next day when he called upon me (which was his practice every day) he said that it would do very well it was very proper Members entered so quickly that it was found expedient to divide the society into separate bodies and class them so that it might he more convenient for the members and be as neighbourly meetings (which was the original design before any meeting at all took place) and each division to send one of their number as delegate to form a committee in some central place for conducting the business of the society and when that committee amounted to 60 Members to be divided again into six parts each part or division to appoint one of their number to form another committee – At this time the society was divided into nine parts – each part appointed a representative to meet in a committee with instructions to revise – correct or alter the rules and regulations; of the society and to prepare another address to the Nation – which was done brought forward to the society – agreed to ordered to be printed and the Chairman and Secty. Margarot and myself to sign it – on the 24th. May 1792 – Margarot had not the same objection which he had before – . ...
About this time we began to be a little more particular about the admission of people into the room where the divisions of the society met on account of several improper persons intruding and intriguing to get into the room as members and afterwards endeavouring to disturb the harmony of the Society by thier noisy and virulent declamations designing thereby to through them into confusion and anarchy that they might become an easy prey to thier evil designs – The method which we adopted in order to counteract as much as possible the nefarious designs of those men ‘.'as this – In each of the divisions it was agreed to appoint a Chairman every meeting night, by acclamation or a Show of hands – on the next meeting night the Chairman was to descend to become door keeper in rotation It was not deemed any degradation to the man who filled that high and elevated Station of president, to stoop to take upon him the lowest Office in Society, door-keeper, when it was for the express purpose of promoting, and securing happiness, order, and Tranquillity in the Society.