Radical Reformer Groups


London Corresponding Society, 1792-93

  • Success of the American and French Revolutions caused politcal interest in working classes
  • LCS founded in 1792 by the shoemaker Thomas Hardy, supported by skilled London craftsmen
  • Promoted universal suffrage and annual parliaments
  • Their methods were peaceful; they wanted to petition parliament rather than organise potentially violent demonstrations
  • Membership was never limited to any particular class
  • Pitt believed that the LCS had the potential to become a military body
  • Government spies infiltrated the LCS meetings, but reported that they were working within the law
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The Spa Fields meeting, 1816

  • Thomas Spence, unhappy with the moderate stance of the meetings in early 1816, organised a mass meeting in east London, hoping it could lead to rioting
  • Henry Hunt addressed a group of 10,000, the largest crowd in Lodnon since the 1780 anti-Catholic Gordon Riots
  • Hunt wanted to present a petition to the Prince Regent, to urge him to reform parliament.
  • He came close to suggesting the use of physical force if demands were not met
  • Before the second meeting, a Spenceans stirred up the crowd and they left the meeting, looted gunsmiths and set off to seize the Tower of London and the Royal exchange
  • The trial of the ringleaders in 1817 exposed the use of government informers and spies 
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The Pentridge Rising, 1817

  • In early 1817, revolutionary activists in Pentridge discussed plans for an insurrection
  • A man who called himself Oliver told them that radicals were planning an uprising in London on the 9th of June- however, Oliver was a government provacateur who fed them false information from the government and purposey led them to do illegal and treasonable activities
  • On June 9th, 300 men marched towards Nottingham, where they were intercepted by a regiment of soldiers- 80 men were arrested
  • Brandreth and two others were hanged and beheaded in public
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Peterloo, 1819

  • Radical activity in Manchester fluctuated with economic conditions- the downturn of the textiles industry in 1818 caused mass meetings and demand for parliamentary reform
  • There was a meeting in St Peter's Fields at which there were 80,000 men, women and children
  • Groups carried banners calling for annual parliaments and universal suffrage
  • Henry Hunt addressed the crowd
  • The Yeomanry tried to ride through the crowd to arrest Hunt, but the sheer density of the crowd caused the men and horses to panic
  • There were 500 injured and 11 dead
  • This caused widespread public revulsion
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Extent of the success of extra-parliamentary prote

Government Response

  • Pitt relied on local magistrates to maintain order intowns and cities
  • Government used a large network of spies 
  • Due to war with France, government needed to promote national unity
  • Political education of the working class had increased

Extent of radical success

  • Noncomformist groups set up Sunday schools to increase literacy, meaning that families could access newspapers and pamphlets promoting the cause
  • Working people were beginning to organise themselves into trade unions

Failures of British radicalism

  • No national figures were able or prepared to take up positions of leadership
  • Reformers were split between those who wanted peaceful actions and those who wanted to use physical force
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Trial of the leaders of the LCS and the suspension

  • Pitt's government suspended habaes corpus, meaning that the government had time to prepare a case against the accused
  • The government feared the LCS due to its message reaching a large and sympathic audience 
  • When the trials against the leaders took place in 1794, the governemnt couldn't present a good case against them
  • They accused the leaders of planning to assassinate the King to have them convicted for treason, but the evidence was flimsy and largely fictional
  • All defendants were aquitted
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Treason Act 1795 and Seditious Meetings Act 1795

Treason Act 1795

  • Made it an offence to kill or harm the King
  • Also defined treason as any intention to 'intimidate or overawe either Houses or either House of Parliament

Seditious Meetings Act 1795

  • Restricted the size of public meetings to 50 people
  • Effectively outlawed large outdoor public meetings which thousands of people would attend
  • Radical activity did diminish
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The Gagging Acts, 1817

  • Another name of the Seditious Meetings Act 1817, built on the 1795 measures
  • Justices of the Peace were given the power to attend to attend public meetings and could disperse it if they considered it unlawful 
  • Societies in which you had to swear an oath were banned outright
  • Succeeded in their aim of quelling unrest in the short term, but the terms lapsed in 1818 and radical activities sprang up again
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The Six Acts, 1819

Unlawful Drilling Actbanned unlawful military style drilling

Seizure of Arms Actempowered magistrates to enter any property where arms                                      may have been being stored

Misendemours Actreduced the ability for someone to be granted bail

Seditious Meetings Prevention ActRevived the terms of the 1795 and 1817 acts

Criminal Libel Actintroduced penalty for transportation of libellious writings

Newspapers and Stamp Duties Actmore publications had the pay the stamp duty, and the price of this rose significantly

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The influence of Thomas Paine and the Rights of Ma

  • Thomas Paine wrote The Rights of Man in response to Edmund Burke's Refelctions on the Revolution in France
  • Written in an accessible style, reaching a large audience in Britain and France
  • declared that all men should have equal social and political rights since they were all born equal in the eyes of God
  • In 1792, a royal proclamation was made against 'wicked and seditious writings which have been printed, published an industriously dispersed' 
  • This was seen as directed at Thomas Paine, who left for France
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John Cartwright and the Hampden Clubs

  • First one formed in London after 1812 and was an exclusive affair with high membership rates
  • They believed that the only rememedy for social ills was parliamentary reform
  • Regional Hampden Clubs were formed, which had a membership of one penny a week and was therefore far more open
  • They wanted universal suffrage and annual parliaments, and wanted to petition the government for them
  • Local authorities used little to no excuse to arrest them
  • They were often released, months later, with no charge
  • This stopped the Hampden clubs from working effectively after 1817
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William Cobbett and the Political Register

  • established Cobbett's Political Register, which became a leading source of impartial news- by 1805, the Register had a circulation of 4000
  • He went to prison for seditious libel in 1810, but in 1812 upon his release he continued writing and the Register flourished
  • So that working class people could afford it, he issued a single sheet of the Register for just 2p so that people wouldn't have to pay the high newspaper duty
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The role of Henry Hunt as a radical orator

  • He supported the political opinions of his class until he was imprisoned for defying the orders of his commander, where he met some radicals
  • By 1810 he had gained a reputation as a brilliant orator
  • His influences were seen most prominently at Spa Fields and Peterloo
  • He was seen as a champion of the people and their interests
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